by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
Former Golden Girls actress Bea Arthur included a $300,000 donation to New York's Ali Forney Center, an organization supporting homeless LGBT youth, in her will. Arthur died of natural causes in April.
Her act of generosity left the center's executive director, Carl Siciliano, overwhelmed. Siciliano said he knew of Arthur's plan to include the center in her will, but maintains Arthur never told him a dollar amount.
"The last year and a half, since the economic crisis started, it's been really hard to keep this program going," he said. "A lot of the foundation and corporate money that we used to get has dried up, and we've been growing."
According to Siciliano, Ali Forney Center has around 125 kids a night "waiting to get into our housing." Siciliano said he'd been struggling to keep the doors open. The shelter assists more than 1,000 people each year. The center, he said, provides shelter for those who had to leave home "for being who they are."
The center also operates two drop-in centers offering food, clothing, medical and mental health treatment, HIV testing, treatment and prevention services, and vocational and educational assistance.
When Siciliano received the $300,000 check last Tuesday, he immediately started to cry. The donation, he says, could not have come at a better time.
"For months, I've been really sweating to make payroll, and we're usually a month or two behind on rent, and there have been times when I was afraid that I wasn't going to hold it together," Siciliano said. "That kind of terror of trying to keep this thing going has come to an end, for now, with this extraordinary generosity."
In 2005, Arthur agreed to do a benefit to help ease the center's growing pains. Back then, Ali Forney Center was a small, grassroots organization and was only able to shelter 12 kids at a time.
Siciliano said Arthur flew to New York to reprise her one-woman show, Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends, ultimately raising more than $40,000 for the organization as well as making a personal, sizable donation.
At the time of the show, Arthur told Siciliano she hadn't realized what a serious issue it was, that so many thousands of Gay kids were on the streets.
Her generosity and relationship with the center did not stop there. During press interviews, Arthur continued to raise the issue of LGBT homeless youth.
"I'm very, very involved in charities involving youth," Bea Arthur said in a 2005 Next Magazine interview. "These kids at the Ali Forney Center are literally dumped by their families because of the fact that they are LGBT - this organization really is saving lives."
According to Siciliano, part of the $300,000 will go toward buying a house that 12 youth can reside in. The house, he says, will be named after Arthur.
"We are overwhelmed with gratitude that Bea saw that LGBT youth deserve as much love and support as any other young person, and that she placed so much value in the work we do to protect them, and to help them rebuild their lives," Siciliano said.
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