One Progress Plaza, St. Petersburg
Saturday, September 13

Metro Wellness and Community Centers, a well-respected not-for-profit organization that serves people affected by HIV/AIDS in Tampa Bay, as well as the larger LGBT community, is gearing up for its largest fundraising event of the year. The proceeds from this event will allow Metro to continue serving its 9,000-plus clients in four counties around the Tampa Bay region.

That fundraising event is, of course, the second annual “Wild Gala,” which this year will be held at One Progress Plaza (200 Central Avenue) in downtown St. Petersburg. Save the date: this year’s Wild Gala will be held on Saturday, September 13, starting at 7 p.m.

Last year’s theme was fire and ice, and this year’s theme is equally as ambitious: the jungle. One Progress Plaza promises to be transformed into various jungles of the world. Whether you are looking for Amazon or Congo realness, you won’t be disappointed, and the Head Hunters buffet offered will feature special menus geared around both geographic themes. While you’re mingling with old friends and making new ones, you will see “bioluminescent creatures performing the dance of the forest.” Sounds unique and exciting!

Tickets are available right now and are on sale for $100 each. You can purchase them by going online to Tickets are selling fast, though, so don’t delay and buy yours today.

I talked with Metro’s fundraising and event manager, James Keane, about the Wild Gala and what people should expect when they attend this intriguing event.

Are you excited to build on the Gala’s success from its well-received first year?

We’re really looking forward to building on our success from last year. Since it was our inaugural year, the response we got last year was astonishing and we’re really excited about raising even more money for our second annual gala this year.

Tell us about this year’s theme, “the jungle.” Why did you choose it?

We wanted to distinguish from last year and build on what we had done. Last year our theme was “fire and ice” and it was really fitting for the venue. This year we’re going to be at One Progress Plaza and it’s a beautiful venue, and it really lends itself to being so visually impactful for our guests. With its size, we were able to really envision a true, wild jungle feel. We’re thrilled to be working with ConceptBait, who is our decor sponsor, as well as Cort which will be filling our furniture needs.

I hear certain people will be receiving special awards at the Gala. Who will be honored?

First, we’ll be honoring Nadine Smith from Equality Florida. She will be receiving our Robert Pope Distinguished Leadership Award for her diligent work in the field of establishing equality for all residents of the state of Florida; most recently, as you know, she has worked tirelessly for marriage equality.

Second, we will be honoring Representative Kathy Castor with the Spirit of Service Excellence Award, for her dedication to people affected by HIV/AIDS in the Tampa Bay area; we’re recognizing her civic work with this segment of our community.

Our third recipient is actually the entire HIV/AIDS care team at the Specialty Care Clinic at the Hillsborough Health Department, and they will be given the Dr. John Barnett Service Award for providing exemplary, compassionate care for LGBT people dealing with HIV/AIDS in Tampa.

How will the money raised at the Wild Gala allow Metro Wellness and Community Centers to continue to provide services for people here in Tampa Bay?

The Gala is our flagship fundraising event, so it raises money for services across the board. LGBT programs and the HIV and clinical side will both benefit from the Gala. We are very excited about the addition of the LGBT Welcome Center, and while the Gala isn’t a fundraiser specifically for the Welcome Center, the money will help to further all of the projects we are working on, which the LGBT Welcome Center is one of them.

Can you give us a quick update on the LGBT Welcome Center?

It’s coming along well. We’re shooting for a soft opening sometime in September. A crew is touching the place up right now with some paint on the exterior and in the interior. The ADA-compliant ramps and railings are all installed and we’re marching on toward that soft opening. We’re really excited to debut the Welcome Center; it’s a great addition to what Metro already provides to the community.

Metro Wellness and Community Centers’ Wild Gala is presented by Wells Fargo. Additional sponsors include Mail-Meds Clinical Pharmacy, Watermark Media, ConceptBait, Cort, Creative Loafing, En Garde Catering and Gourmet Services, BMR Consulting, Raymond James and Associates, Phillips Air Conditioning and Heating, Pawlowski and Mastrilli Law Firm, Morrow Benefits Group, Equality Florida, St. Pete Pride, The Bank of Tampa, Pride In-Home Care, Edward White Hospital, and Lawrence Fischer, CPA. For more information, visit