Allen Thornell dedicated his life to achieving equality for all. When he saw people treated unfairly, he took it personally. He tackled challenges others thought were impossible and did so without expecting anything in return. Through his work with organizations like CARE, Georgia Equality, Victory Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute and AIDS Survival Project, Thornell was able to connect his passion for social justice to help multiple communities in Atlanta and beyond. One such community was those affected by HIV/AIDS. Through the Allen Thornell HIV Care and Service Fund, his legacy continues.
Thornell moved to Atlanta in 1995 and quickly made a name for himself as a gay rights and human rights advocate. The pinnacle of his work with AIDS Survival Project was around funding for Georgia’s AIDS drug assistance program. Thornell’s efforts helped secure $1 million in one year. Over the next five years that figure increased to $9 million. Whether lobbying for government dollars, running for political office or building coalitions across aisles, Thornell worked fearlessly and tirelessly for justice. His sudden death in August 2009 left a gap in the community and in the hearts of the many people whose lives he touched.
“Allen cared about everyone and had a deep commitment to ensuring that all people were treated fairly. He was a voice for those who needed to be heard,” says Ken Britt, Board member of The Community Foundation and friend of Thornell’s. “Through his work with AIDS Survival Project and in the community at large, Allen pushed for adequate services for people living with HIV/AIDS and funding for the organizations serving them. As a person living with AIDS, he knew the challenges related to accessing affordable treatment and care.”
In 2004, Thornell was a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against Abbot Laboratories, which was eventually found guilty of boosting the price of one of its HIV/AIDS drugs. In August 2009, The Community Foundation was notified that it was one of the 13 beneficiaries of an awards distribution stemming from that settlement. The settlement provided that recipients use the funds for “services to persons who are HIV positive or for educational activities in regard to HIV and AIDS.”
In October, The Community Foundation Board approved the creation of the Allen Thornell HIV Care and Service Fund. Grants from this fund will be distributed to organizations chosen by the Atlanta AIDS Partnership Fund advisory committee to provide care and service to HIV positive individuals. The fund will also be used as a receptacle for contributions from other donors wishing to support grantmaking by the AIDS Fund.
“For almost 20 years, the AIDS Fund has worked with partners to actively respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” says Alicia Philipp, president of The Community Foundation. “The Thornell Fund will carry on Allen’s fight, providing valuable dollars to equip the Foundation for the much needed work ahead. We are honored to receive this gift from Allen, and know the funds over time will help the many individuals in our community affected and infected by HIV/AIDS.”
For the roughly 20 AIDS service organizations in our region, funding for operations is heavily dependent on federal funding – in many cases, as much as 90 percent. Grants from the Thornell Fund and other donors of the Foundation can go a long way in supporting organizations experiencing shortages in their budgets, exploring partnerships and other cost-effective efforts or looking to expand existing programs to meet the ever-changing needs of client populations.
Allen Thornell left an indelible mark on the Atlanta region. His commitment to creating a better community for all continues to live on.