Triad Health Project (THP) was thrilled for the opportunity to nominate Ron Johnson as the 2017 Outstanding Greensboro Philanthropist. The award was presented by the Association of Fundraising Professionals NC Triad Chapter at their 25th Annual National Philanthropy Day Celebration. The luncheon event, held at Grandover Resort on November 20, welcomed nonprofit professionals and philanthropic luminaries from across the Triad. Ron was recognized for his exceptional philanthropic efforts alongside eight other individuals and five groups.
Ron has served in numerous leadership roles with philanthropic organizations across the Piedmont Triad. Most notably, he was a founder and early Board of Directors President and long-serving Board Member for both THP and Guilford Green Foundation (GGF). THP began in 1986 as a grassroots effort among Ron and thirteen friends to deal with the emerging health crisis and the barriers and discrimination their friends with HIV and AIDS were facing. Today, THP is one of the largest HIV/AIDS service organizations in North Carolina, serving nearly 2,500 people each year with HIV support services, prevention education and free HIV/STI testing.
Ron helped found GGF in 1995 to be the fundraising arm for THP. GGF has since expanded its efforts to address a wide range of LGBTQ issues. Today, donors and volunteers have helped GGF provide nearly $670,000 to support critical organizations, innovative projects, students, and leaders, addressing existing and emerging community needs in urban and rural communities throughout the Piedmont Triad, and creating the only LGBTQ community foundation in the Southeastern U.S. Ron continues to be active with both THP and GGF and currently serves on the Board of Trustees for Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro.
Ron’s largest impact on THP has been through fundraising for THP’s annual Winter Walk for AIDS, recently renamed the Ron Johnson Red Ribbon Run & AIDS Walk. Walking as testament of his commitment to the mission of THP, Ron wrote a few years ago:
I walk to honor the memory of Ms. Leon, the first guardian angel that Triad Health Project had. When the Triad Health Project was first formed in 1986, there was no one in the community willing to step up to the plate to help fund the financial needs of a newly formed agency dealing with this strange new disease in the gay community. There simply were no resources or funds available. Then Ms. Leon had the brilliant idea of having all of the Leon beauty salons do a Saturday Cut-A-Thon. Business leaders in the community told Ms. Leon that she could not afford to raise money for THP as AIDS at that time was simply too controversial. Ms. Leon informed everyone that she simply could not afford not to raise funds for THP as it was the right thing to do. Therefore, her loyal employees donated their services for this Cut-A-Thon, which raised $7,000.00 for Triad Health Project. This was the first significant money THP ever received and it was money that helped get the agency really started.
Later when it was clear that THP needed even more money, Ms. Leon helped organize THP’s first art auction which took place at a restaurant called Crocodiles on Tate Street. Ms. Leon had significant resources in the artistic community and obtained a number of donated works of art for the auction. However, we did not get enough donated. Therefore, Ms. Leon took many paintings off the walls of her home and donated them to the art auction. Then she attended the auction and bought back all of the works of art that she had donated so that they could go right back on her walls in the same places that they had hung before and THP received a huge influx of needed capital.
I have walked in all of the Winter Walks for AIDS. I walked in the first Winter Walk in 1992 but did not raise much money. Ms. Leon was the number one money raiser. Ms. Leon challenged me to do better. I walked in the 1993 Winter Walk for AIDS, but again Ms. Leon was the largest money winner. Ms. Leon then challenged me that I should be raising more money for Winter Walk. I promised her that I would do that and I challenged her I would beat her in 1994. Ms. Leon died August 22, 1994. She did not live to raise the money for our scheduled duel for Winter Walk 1994. In 1994, I walked in memory of Ms. Leon, and I raised more money than anyone else at that Winter Walk for AIDS. I have walked in honor of Ms. Leon every year since 1994 and I have raised more money for Winter Walk than anyone else in every Winter Walk since then. I walk because I believe in the mission of the Triad Health Project. I walk to honor the memory of THP’s first guardian angel, Ms. Leon, and I walk to honor my promise to her.
Ron has more than kept his long ago made promise to Ms. Leon. By engaging the support of friends, colleagues and clients, he has consistently been the single largest individual fundraiser for THP’s walk/run for 26 consecutive years, raising nearly a half million dollars for compassionate HIV/AIDS services in Guilford County. Ron’s award as the 2017 Outstanding Greensboro Philanthropist came with a $500 honorarium which, true to form, he promptly directed to his Red Ribbon Run fundraising efforts.
Ron has not only served nobly with multiple philanthropic organizations, he has been instrumental in founding them to address critical community needs. Ron stays involves with the charitable organizations he serves in both a leadership capacity and at the grassroots fundraising level. Ron has worked tirelessly for decades to engage hundreds of donors from around the community to give, and to change and save lives. His impact on the work of local nonprofit organizations is immeasurable, allowing them to serve thousands of people in need, particularly those most marginalized by society. The most striking example of this is the way that Ron stepped up early on for the LGBTQ community, at a time when doing so was much more controversial. He put others before himself, inspiring friends and colleagues with his courage and commitment, and emboldening them to get involved as volunteers and fellow leaders. A big thank you to Ron and the many walk supporters he has brought on board throughout the years to help sustain THP’s work!