By Shirley Brady Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, 2003. Phones ring nonstop, the fax machine and printer spew out paper and visitors keep popping by unannounced. At the center of this storm whirling around Cable Positive’s office is the student-activist-turned-Cuomo-aide-turned-proverbial-father-figure getting an update on the day’s activities. Cable Positive president and CEO Steve Villano and his team—Nancy Schadoff, Thomas Dima, Melissa Hinnen and newest staffer Dana Levitt—have a packed schedule and very long day leading up to the evening’s benefit performance of Taboo in Manhattan’s theater district, and an even longer journey after that. As the leader of the decade-old nonprofit organization that marshals the cable industry’s resources to promote HIV/AIDS awareness, Villano has never been more grimly aware of the need to fight the epidemic. Record-high global and U.S. statistics indicate the disease’s devastation is even worse than feared. The epidemic is claiming younger and younger victims, which drove the organization in its recently concluded strategic planning to focus its efforts on youths and remove the stigma of AIDS. On this day Cable Positive is kicking off its hardest-hitting, most targeted effort to date. “Is Today the Day You Get AIDS?” minces no words in order to wake up young Americans. The tell-it-like-it-is campaign aims to remove the shame and myths that prevent kids of all ages from practicing safe sex or getting tested; about 67% of young adults 18 to 24 haven’t been tested, according to last month’s nationwide Witeck-Combs/Harris Interactive poll. Villano scrolls through the campaign’s nonjudgmental website (www.IsTodayTheDay.org) and clicks through the true stories of young people infected with HIV. They are also featured in the PSAs hitting TV and print that day, directing their peers to check their attitude and check out the website (or call a toll-free hotline) for information, education and some tough love. He praises the unprecedented amount of cable programming for this World AIDS Day. More than two decades into the AIDS epidemic, with the crisis (and misunderstanding) at an all-time high, the need for support and cooperation is critical. Villano would even like to share the new campaign with cable’s foes in satellite TV, just as the T. Howard Foundation, a satellite-backed effort to promote diversity, reaches out to cable. In the cab on the way to the New York chapter’s designated AIDS Service Organization, the AIDS Service Center on lower Fifth Avenue, Villano says he’s proud of the industry’s support for tonight’s sold-out fund-raiser (tickets sold for up to $500, even after some negative press about novice Broadway producer Rosie O’Donnell’s controversial play) and of how VH1 and VH1 Classic stepped up by buying the house and co-hosting tonight’s benefit. He also lauds HBO’s Angels in America, which his organization just screened at the NCTA’s Washington, D.C., headquarters for government and FCC officials. As an amateur screenwriter, he says he’s a huge fan of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Villano jumps out of the taxi and locates Sharon Duke, the center’s executive director and CEO. Joining Duke and Cable Positive New York chapter co-chair Brenda Pomeroy, he tours the bustling and cramped facilities and meets some clients before presenting the center with a check for $5,000 from Cable Positive’s New York chapter aiding its move to bigger premises this spring. After a quick lunch he slips into a student screening of two MTV Networks’ specials on HIV/AIDS. At the event, presented by UNICEF, the Kaiser Family Foundation and MTV Networks, Linda Ellerbee shows her Nick News documentary, The Courage to Live: Kids, South Africa and AIDS and Noggin’s The N’s A Walk in Your Shoes: Living With HIV/AIDS. Villano accompanies the 19-year-old Hydeia Broadbent, one of the HIV-positive panelists from the screening, to a special taping of BET’s 106 & Park and rushes back to the office to welcome his wife, Carol, and Roy Simmons, a former offensive lineman for the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants who disclosed in the previous day’s New York Times that he’s HIV positive. The group grabs a bite to eat before descending on the Plymouth Theater, where Villano chats with his board members, guests and a spirited Rosie O’Donnell before Boy George & Co. take the stage. At the after-party, Villano gives the evening, which raised a record $110,000, a thumbs up. But he and his team can’t rest quite yet—tomorrow morning they’re flying to Anaheim for the final Western Show. Those unfinished screenplays will have to remain that way for a good while yet.

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