The nearly 200 people who attended the AIRS 25th Anniversary Gala on April 26 at the M&T Bank Pavilion were later treated to a rousing performance of West Side Story at the Hippodrome Theatre next door. And as F.T. Burden, the CEO and president of AIRS/Empire Homes of Maryland, pointed out, the show’s title is a perfect metaphor for the evening’s event.
This is because the success of Restoration Gardens, a $6 million, 43-unit housing project for homeless youth ages 18 to 24 located in the west side of Baltimore and opened in 2011, has been the organization’s crowning achievement, and its story was clearly the centerpiece of the celebration.
The AIDS Interfaith Residential Services or AIRS began in 1987 by the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council as the faith community’s response to the AIDS epidemic. The first Don Miller House, which opened in 1988, served four men with end-stage AIDS. AIRS became a 501c-3 in 1989.
Chrisey Gibson-Washington shared her experiences while at Restoration Gardens and how her life improved because of the opportunities City Steps, a subsidiary of AIRS, afforded. In addition to providing a stable environment, City Steps programs teach the residents such life skills as financial literacy and home keeping as well as targeted workforce development assistance to become self-sufficient.
“Along our journey, we began using our housing and service expertise proactively, by serving homeless youth in an effort to break the cycle of homelessness before it starts and reduce the high rate of new HIV infection,” Burden told the Blade.