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October 2001

An Integrated City University Responds to the WTC Crisis

Bold, High-Tech TV Magazine Invites "Study with the Best"
NYC Past in Full Array At Inaugural History Festival
CUNY Community Colleges: Vital to City Economy
Arthur Miller Drops Back In for Finley Award at CCNY Dinner
Archaeologists Research Vikings
Faculty Experts Join Collaboration on World Trade Center Future
New Research Foundation Head
Asthma Initiative at BCC Registers Major Success
Oysters Reintroduced to Bay
York Grad Makes Naval History
Managing the 9/11 Crisis at BMCC
Hunter Cartographers Prepare Vital Ground Zero Maps For Rescue
CCNY’s Rosenberg/Humphrey Interns Continue Public Service Tradition
City Tech Prof Sheds Light on Titanic
New Device for Medical Diagnonis
Mina Rees, Pioneering Military Scientist
Annual Perspectives Nears 25th Anniversary
University to HIV Children: “Toys (and Lots Else) Are Us”
University to HIV Children:
"Toys (and Lots Else) Are Us"

Betancourt, at right, helps release balloons in memory of those lost to AIDS at the annual "Parade of Gifts" in City Tech's Atrium Gallery.
Back in 1986, when the HIV/AIDS epidemic was in its years of explosive growth, Professor Frank Betancourt and some of his students in the Hospitality Management Department at New York City Technical College sensed the need for toys and TLC for children in the city infected with or affected by the disease. Their holiday-season drive brought in about 500 toys that first year.

Recognizing the continuing need for such help to young victims of HIV/AIDS, Betancourt formally established the Gifts for Special Children Project under City Tech auspices, and since then the Project has grown into a monster—a very nice monster, mind you, filled with the decidedly un-Grinch-like spirit of giving. It is estimated that 100,000 toys for infants up to 16-year-olds have been distributed by the Project so far. Betancourt, who now chairs the Hospitality Management Department, expects to gather about 9,000 gifts this year, They will go to more than 25 metropolitan-area institutions serving children with HIV/AIDS.

The drive kicks off in early November and, as usual, climaxes with a gala December luncheon honoring outstanding individuals in the pediatric HIV/AIDS field held in City Tech's Janet Lefler Dining Room, followed by a gathering around the assembled toys in the College's Atrium Building Gallery. This year the awards ceremony and the viewing of the small Mt. Everest of toys will be on the afternoon of Dec. 13th. Betancourt's active fund-raising in the private and corporate sector (not to mention his "special" way of involving College students, faculty, and staff) has made it possible for the Project to add several more "chapters" to the toy story. The Project also outfits hospitals with such equipment as highchairs, swings, strollers, and cribs; it creates child- life and clinic play areas with crafts materials, computer and video games, and televisions in waiting-room areas; and to date it has created seventeen mini-childrenôs libraries in centers and clinics.

The Project also boasts a speakers bureau that disseminates information debunking myths and misconceptions about the disease, as well as a special events bureau that facilities when outside organizations desire to provide parties for special children. The Project has also pushed beyond the Christmas season with such programs as "Give a Bunny Day" in the spring. The Project's close association with the Brooklyn AIDS Task Force (BATF), where it helps fund the Nancy Duran Child Life Center, is no surprise. BATF's founding chair in 1987, Dr. Victor Ayala, has been a City Tech colleague of Betancourt's since the mid-80s and has been involved with the Project from the early days. (Ayala is now chair of City Techôs Human Services Department.)

The Special Gifts Award-winners are invariably from flung walks of life. Among them have been, for example, Clara "Mother" Hale of Harlem's Hale House (the first recipient), Phyllis Gurdin, founder of the Leake & Watts specialized foster care program for HIV/AIDS, Patrick O'Connell, the founder of Visual AIDS, and Joey DiPaolo, the Staten Island teenager whose struggle with AIDS inspired a TV movie and who became a vocal media activist.

Betancourtôs devotion to youngsters with HIV has extended well beyond the Project. Since 1985 he and his partner, Dante Tarantini, have adopted six boys with HIV. Alex, Jonathan, Mickey, and Michael have died, but 16-year-old Davon is now in high school and 11-year-old Dante is thriving, having sero-converted to negative status. "We have four angels in heaven and two little devils here," Betancourt says with obvious affection.