Gay-run Atlanta fashion gala helps local homeless teens not just survive, but ‘Thrive’
By Shannon Jenkins

People have been telling Rick Westbrook for years that his organization needs a gala, but there’s one significant problem with throwing such a grand event.

“Galas cost a lot of money to produce,says Westbrook, executive director of Lost-n-Found Youth, which helps find permanent housing for Atlanta’s homeless LGBT young people.

Lucky for Westbrook, and for Atlanta’s gala-loving gays, one just landed in his lap. Enter Buckhead salon owner Steve Hightower.

“In my career as a hairdresser, many people have helped me, and I wanted to give back to the community,” says Hightower, who owns Steve Hightower Hair Salon and Day Spa. “I have worked on many hair shows in New York, Dallas, Chicago and Paris, so I thought I will do my own show and let it benefit someone who needs help.”

Thus was born the Thriving Children Gala Fashion Show. On April 29, the 7th annual event benefits Lost-n-Found Youth.

“I started out helping small children; then I realized teens are being neglected,” Hightower says. “Everyone wants to help small children but not teens. They are pushed aside. So I have been helping teens for the past four years.

“It’s hard for me to imagine these kids getting thrown out on the streets because they’re gay,” he adds. These teenagers are our future. They need to be loved and shown respect and given guidance.”

Both Hightower and Westbrook hope the event will raise awareness about Atlanta’s LGBT homeless youth with a broader audience.

“This gala gives us more exposure and gets people talking about this problem,” Westbrook says. “It’s not going to go away. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

If last year’s event is any indication, Lost-n-Found should get plenty of attention and funds. Hightower hopes to raise $150,000. The 2015 Thriving Children Gala raised $113,000 for the Center for Children & Young Adults. Westbrook says the money will help with everyday needs for LNF youth, including food, shelter and clothing, as well as counseling and other assistance. The funds will also help ongoing renovations on the organization’s house, which will eventually accommodate up to 18 youth a night.

To raise that kind of money, Hightower promises attendees a chic event at the Fox Theatre’s Egyptian Ballroom. Along with award-winning local anchor and television host Karyn Greer, Hightower will co-emcee a night packed with entertainment. Highlights include a high-end fashion show featuring local designers and professional runway models, a silent auction, live auction, and a full orchestra.

The sit-down event will also offer top notch entertainment by Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus and internationally known Cher impersonator and RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Chad Michaels.

“I’m looking forward to entertaining the people involved in helping out with such an important cause,” Michaels tells Goliath. “As a performer, I have met so many street kids over the years outside of the clubs and venues. Showing support, kindness, love and an opportunity to succeed is the most important thing we can do for these young men and women.”

Want to go?
Thriving Children Gala
Where: Fabulous Fox Theatre
When: April 29. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: General admission $75. VIP $175, or two for $300.
Dress code: Jackets for men; cocktail attire for women
More: atlthrivingchildren.org