About Quilt Project Gold Coast

Members of Quilt Project Gold Coast smail at the camera while gathered around a table working on quilts

About QPGC

Quilt Project Gold Coast is a locally based nonprofit with an all-volunteer group and no overhead. All of our funds go directly to displays and HIV/AIDS awareness raising, and our volunteer efforts include information booths, displays at health fairs, churches, synagogues, colleges and festivals, as well as a speakers bureau and our very fun Quilting bees.

Board Members

Kaith Coffman-Grey, Board President

Keith Coffman-Grey, President

Quilt Project’s Board president KEITH COFFMAN-GREY came to his decades-long commitment to AIDS activism after many years in Democratic politics. In fact, he was an alternate delegate in 1976 at the Democratic convention that elected Jimmy Carter!

But when his partner Mark Wilson was diagnosed with AIDS in late 1984, Keith’s life changed forever. “In 1985 AIDS Project Los Angeles was just forming,” he says. “We joined APLA’s couples group. It was a desperate time; AIDS was a death sentence, and we knew our time together was short.”

Mark died in January 1986, leaving Keith dedicated to AIDS education and policy so others didn’t have to suffer the loss of their loved ones. He heard about the NAMES Project National AIDS Memorial Quilt after Mark passed on. “I learned about the Quilt in Gay magazines and on the news,” he recalls.

It was in the mid-90’s that Keith met his future husband, Neil Demers-Grey, and joined NAMES Project Ventura County’s Board of Directors as treasurer. He worked statewide on AIDS policy as Central Coast delegate to the LIFE/AIDS Lobby of Sacramento, as well as advocating at the local level as both president of Santa Barbara Stonewall Democrats and chair of the Santa Barbara County Democratic Central Committee.

After Neil was diagnosed with AIDS In 2003, Keith mostly withdrew from AIDS activism – until 2017, when Ventura County experienced a steep increase in new HIV infections. “We formed Quilt Project Gold Coast in response to this increase,” he explains. “The Quilts are an excellent way to educate and raise awareness so we can bring new infections down to zero.”

What advice does Keith have for younger gays? “Be proactive and protect yourself. There are many ways to prevent HIV/AIDS – educate yourself.”

Mark Lager, Board Vice President

Mark Lager, Vice-President

Yes, MARK LAGER is a cofounder of Quilt Project Gold Coast and Vice President on the Board. But he is so much more, and it was his visionary notion in the late 1980s that led to the creation of Quilt Project Ventura County in 1991. 

“Wanting to be of support to the AIDS community,” he says, “I took on roles at AIDS Care, Inc. to help. I was in the buddy program, took clients to doctor appointments or social activities, and wrote for the newsletter.” 

It was in the ACI newsletter that Mark first proposed the creation of a local chapter of NAMES Project, makers of the National Quilt. “I felt a compulsion to create a visible display for the entire community to see the devastation,” he explains. It was through his own grief at the loss of his sister and her family that in part brought him to make the commitment now spanning over 30 years.

Describing the standard size of the AIDS Memorial Quilts, Mark says, “Hearing the phrase ‘3×6 feet, about the size of a common grave plot,’ had an impact on me.” 

Mark’s commitment and vision have brought scores of volunteers over the decades to the cause of AIDS, but this substantial legacy has had rewards for him as well. “It was a privilege to help those who could not help themselves. I felt a lot of compassion. I took off work many times to help my buddies. For today, I am even more aware of how important kindness and compassion are in life.” 

It was this empathy that led the Kansas-born activist to service. “Prior to coming to Ventura, I (was) reading…where the CDC was tracking a new virus that was devastating the Gay community. I was becoming more aware of my sexuality, and felt a compassion and affiliation for those suffering. When my partner and I moved here, I excitedly looked for organizations to join. I met some members of the local community who were interested in creating a center to help those who had AIDS.” 

Mark was aware of the activist group ACT-UP, which was highly visible in LA County and soon to form chapters in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. “(But I) knew I was not an in-your-face activist,” he says, and wanted to support the cause in other ways – hence AIDS Care, Inc., which led to the formation of Quilt Project Ventura County and then NAMES Project Ventura County. 

Now, after decades of service to both HIV/AIDS and the LGBTI community, Mark, who is retiring next year from his IT management job at the Ventura County Library, helps to lead QPGC.  

Mark’s main focus in Quilt Project is remembering those who have died. “I believe their spirits are around us when we remember them. It is a powerful way to heal the devastation we have seen in the community, and to make the larger community aware that the disease is still with us. 

“I was overwhelmed when I was told I had HIV, but it is no longer a death sentence. Get tested routinely; be responsible for your sexual health.”

Beil Coffman- Grey, Board Secretary/Treasurer

Neil Coffman-Grey, Secretary/Treasurer

Board secretary/treasurer NEIL COFFMAN-GREY has been with the Quilt from the beginning, when as a volunteer for AIDS Care, Inc. (ACI) he read a column of Mark Lager’s about starting a local chapter of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. “Mark and I were already very good friends,” he says, “and I really wanted to kickstart his dream to do this creative, commemorative project.”

And so with Cindy Copeland Burrell, Quilt Project Ventura County was born, with Quilt panels going to the National AIDS Memorial Quilt for the rest of the decade. In a few years QPVC became NAMES Project Ventura County after an investiture ceremony at ACI’s offices. Neil, Mark and Cindy were on the Board, surrounded by likeminded volunteers such as Lyn Gesch, Lois and Jean Story, Coral Norton and, after 1995, Keith Coffman-Grey.

Neil was on the Board of ACI for several years, helping to put on the yard sales, the haircut-a-thons – and finally the harbor cruises, which continue to this day with October’s “Hooray for Hollywood” cruise. “It’s so much more than a fundraiser,” he says of the cruises. “They are a tradition and a community space.” After many years with Island Packers and other companies, for the past three years the cruise has sailed out of Channel Islands Harbor aboard The Scarlett Belle.

Neil was involved with several other groups working with AIDS in the 1990s, including the LIFE AIDS Lobby, which worked on bills affecting HIV/AIDS and the LGBT communities of California, and the Gay & Lesbian Community Center in Ventura. “As a person living with the virus, it’s important for me to have a say over policies affecting my health and livelihood,” he says. “I think it’s important in your life to do good things and leave the world a better place, if you can.”

To that end, Neil joined forces with Keith, Cindy and Mark to form Quilt Project Gold Coast in spring 2018, handling bylaws, newsletter editing, grants and PR in addition to his Board duties. “I was a bit rusty after 15 years,” he says of the intervening years after receiving his AIDS diagnosis in 2003. “But once I dived in, it’s wonderful! Keith and I had ‘retired’ from activism after I got the disease, thinking things were going to be all right, but our movement is generational, and the same fights need to be fought over time.

“It was an easy decision,” he admits, “once I realized and told Keith, ‘Activism was what brought us together – and it has always represented the best of us.’”

As older generations affected by AIDS pass on, Neil thinks it’s even more important to “remember the names” of those lost to the disease. “It’s still with us, and if you get infected, the past is very much present in your life and world. I think when younger activists realize this and speak out to tell their stories, it will help us – one day – to get to zero new infections.” Neil still holds hope that a cure will one day be found. “I’m never giving up on hope.”

Board Member Ron Cayou

Ron Cayou, Board Member

He was a co-founder and board president of the Gay & Lesbian Community Center in Ventura, which served Ventura County for 18 years, and now Quilt Project is blessed to have the amazing talents of RON CAYOU as one of our Boardmembers.

“I became part of establishing the GLCC because I felt there was a lack of representation, supportive activities, education and services in Ventura County for the LGBT community,” he recalls, adding that the impact of the GLCC on the county was significant. “It created visibility, and the GLCC was able to bring awareness and services to and for the community. GLCC brought Pride to the county, both figuratively and literally.”

The Colorado-born, 30+ year social worker for the County of Ventura has lived in Ventura since 1970; in the mid-80s, a facilitator of the UCSB Gay & Lesbian rap group to which Ron belonged began coordinating, as a Tricounties AIDS educator, “Kool-AIDS” parties at local homes and bars including The Wild Goose in Ventura, at which AIDS info, condoms and testing referrals were provided.

Ron both volunteered and participated in the Kool-AIDS events, and it was at one of the house parties that Jerry W., the rap group facilitator, and Ventura local Ken Trupp organized a meeting to discuss the formation of an AIDS nonprofit to provide information, support and services for people living with HIV and AIDS. It was the beginning of AIDS Care, Inc.

Mark Vartanian was soon leading AIDS Care, and its first board president, with Ken and Ron volunteering. Ron became an ACI volunteer at its original Loma Vista office, answering the phone and providing information. “I was also a Buddy for several persons living with AIDS” at both the GLRC in Santa Barbara as well as AIDS Care’s Buddy program, which coupled volunteers with clients to provide companionship, dignity and assistance of all kinds for those who did not otherwise have such support.

It was through the GLCC and AIDS Care that Ron was first aware of the local quilting projects. Through the years and with the 2018 establishment of Quilt Project Gold Coast as a nonprofit, Ron maintained his friendships with the founders and began attending the bees, enjoying the camaraderie and creativity. He is currently working on a panel for Drew Setterfield.

“What I like most about the Quilting bees is its primary focus, that we shouldn’t forget,” he says. “We should not forget the loved ones we’ve lost, nor the fight it was to have the disease acknowledged, researched and funded, recognized for the pandemic it became due to hatred and prejudice.”

His message to younger Gay and bisexual men would be to “educate yourself about HIV, its history, and be responsible for yourself and your partners. It’s not the death sentence people went through 30 years ago, but it’s also not a free ride and there are serious consequences to being positive.”

Cindy Copeland-Burrell, Board Member

Cindy Copeland Burrell, Board Member

Although we in Quilt Project Gold Coast often say we are very unskilled at the sewing crafts, in the case of co-founder and Board Member CINDY COPELAND BURRELL, that is not quite the case.

“I won a blue ribbon at the Fair for the totebag I sewed in 4th grade,” Cindy reveals. “But,” she adds, “my skills got rusty over the years, and it’s been fun to be back doing handwork again.

“That’s one of the great things about the bees – anyone who wishes to participate can contribute, no matter if they’ve never sewn or quilted before.”

Cindy finds a spiritual element in quilting. “Especially in these hate- and virus-ravaged days,” she says, “it’s healing to spend time with likeminded people working to improve our little corner of the world.”

For three decades Cindy has been part of sewing Quilts to remember those lost to AIDS. She sometimes ponders a world where CHRISTOPHER DYE and others weren’t gone. “As with all the brilliant, compassionate people whose lives are cut short, you wonder how much better the world would be if they had been able to continue working to change it.”

Cindy moved to Ventura in the late 80s.  “AIDS wasn’t very well understood by many at that time,” she says, and she got involved in AIDS Care, Inc. to help out. From hotline volunteer to volunteer coordinator and Boardmember, she befriended both Mark Lager and Neil Demers-Grey, who were forming a local chapter of the NAMES Project, remaining involved with NPVC until the turn of the millennium.

With the rise in new infections in 2017, the activists reformed as Quilt Project Gold Coast to raise awareness and help bring infections down. “So here we are nearly 30 years later – Neil, Keith, Mark and I reunited against this pervasive disease, joined by other wonderful activists and volunteers.” Among her other accomplishments, Cindy has co-hosted three successful harbor cruise fundraisers.

After so many years of experience, what would the Cindy of today advise the young activist just getting involved? “Don’t get distracted by infighting and petty politics or ego trips. Keep focused on the reason for the Quilt: to raise awareness and to remember.”

Andeya Garcia, Board Member

Andeya Garcia, Board Member

Hardworking quilter ANDEYA GARCIA specializes in embroidering our signature panels that feature handwritten messages to dozens of those lost to the disease. Using thread that matches each Sharpie color used by those who attend our events, Andeya is helping to memorialize the names. A loving mom who works full-time, Andeya still finds time to sew on the signature panel in the evenings. “The reason I am sewing for the AIDS memory quilt is because being a teen mom I had to learn to advocate for my child when they were in school, and now that they’re grown, I still want to continue to advocate for the LGBTQ community,” she says. “Most of all it gives me great pleasure stitching every single name of those persons who have passed away so they won’t be forgotten.”
Andeya was a volunteer for the AIDS Memorial Quilt in the 1990s. “I took it as a school project, but once I got to know the people involved in the AIDS quilt and what they were about and how they fought for their rights,” Andeya committed herself to ensuring that those lost to AIDS would be remembered.

Marc Goldman, Board Member

Marc Goldman, Board Member

“Creativity” defines MARC GOLDMAN’s approach to his Quilting. For years the Vermont native attended the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, gaining a foundation in designing skills and earning an MEd from UMass Boston.

“I’ve always treasured what Quilt Project has meant and wanted to help design an artistic memory of someone’s loved one,” he says. “I create hook rugs and…wanted to create a Quilt that represents my design style.” After 15 years as a state supervisor for vocational ed, Marc moved to Los Angeles, where he worked for a company coordinating celebrities for nonprofit events, including Milton Berle, Mickey Rooney and Phyllis Diller. In fact, it was Hollywood legend Tony Curtis to urged Marc to start his own company and during that time was introduced to a disabled comedian, leading Marc to redirect his efforts toward people with disabilities for the past 33 years.

By the early 90s, many of the fundraisers Marc worked on went to AIDS organizations. While in LA, he volunteered as an AIDS Hotline operator. “Living through the height of the virus, I knew many people with HIV and, unfortunately, many who died of complications or prematurely by suicide.”Marc first saw the NAMES Project National AIDS Quilt when it toured at the Rose Bowl. “I’ll always remember going to the neighborhood above the Bowl to see the entire field covered by the Quilt. I think I still have some pictures of it.”

He met Mark Lager at a Gay men’s social event a quarter century ago, when Mark (through AIDS Care, Inc.) cofounded a chapter of the NAMES Project in Ventura County, an organizational predecessor to Quilt Project Gold Coast. In 2002, they renewed their friendship when Marc moved to Oxnard, including as gamers in the now 32-year-old Gold Coast Card Players Club. With his friendships and background, as well as being a QPGC supporter and one of the Quilt Project’s annual harbor cruise sponsors, Marc decided in 2021 to join the Quilting Bees. “I look forward to the bees as they are a chance to be creative for a worthy reason,” Marc says, “and at the same time share artistic skills with those who have the same interests.” Marc takes a long view when it comes to the AIDS epidemic. “Historically, almost every generation is faced with an event that is traumatic,” he observes. “My grandparents lived through a pandemic, World War I and a depression. My parents also lived through the Great Depression and World War II. “I lived through a generation decimated by HIV/AIDS. The Quilt Project is a way that I can continue to reflect on the many friends I lost, as well as focus on creating a legacy for those who are still dying – but not forgotten.”

Ron Oehler, Board Member

Ron Oehler, Board Member

Ron Oehler knew about the Quilt since the 1980’s. “I was an office manager in a medical group at the forefront of AIDS research,” he says, “so I was aware of the Quilt from the beginning.” Moving to Los Angeles in 1971 from a small farm in central Ohio, his first job was at the City of LA as clerical/medical tech.

In 1988 he and partner Michael Scheck moved to La Conchita. He worked for Michael’s brother 10 years and at UCP/WORK in Carpinteria 8 more years before retiring. “There were few opportunities to meet other Gays in Ventura in the 80’s,” Ron remembers, “but Michael and I joined Gold Coast Couples. Members of the couples group who were business owners formed an association where our circle of acquaintances expanded. “Neil Demers-Grey was a friend from that group who, learning of our enjoyment of games, gathered like-minded people. That group – Gold Coast Card Players Club – continues 30 years later.”

Quilt Project Gold Coast launched in 2018,  and Ron attended harbor cruises, but having recently retired and losing Michael in March 2021 to brain cancer, Ron had time to contribute to QPGC’s mission of raising awareness. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. “I was diagnosed with HIV in November 1987,” Ron reveals. “Michael was negative, and though my body tolerated the medications pretty well, I always saw myself dying before my partner even though he was several years older.”

Ron was fortunate that his T-cells were strong for so many years after his diagnosis, during which drug development advanced considerably. “Contributing to my survival is my attitude of trust and gratitude and a calmness I must have gotten from my father, a very gentle man. I have heard that singing and yelling stimulates the thyroid, supporting immunity. I have done my share of both!”

Living in the coastal enclave of La Conchita has its own risks, where Ron and Michael survived several landslides. “But the weather is beautiful and our home provides many blessings, not the least of which are the parties and dinners with friends.”

With protease inhibitors in 1996 and many other advances that have made HIV a manageable disease, Ron describes as “tragic” the message of safer sex that has been lost over the years, as well as the complacency in affected communities regarding safer sex. His message to younger community members? “Be smart with your health. There are wonderful drugs today that can eliminate the chance of infection if other precautions are unavailable, so be prepared and vigilant. There is no guarantee of effective treatment if you do become infected, and people are still dying of AIDS.”

Celia Ortenberger, Board Member

Celia Ortenberger, Board Member

Superlatives are easy to find when it comes to CELIA ORTENBERG, one of our most vital and valued superstars in an organization chockful of amazing talents.

From embroidery to embellishments, Celia has revolutionized our Quilts, adding perfect touches to the work of the lesser skilled, literally teaching Quilters about batting and backing, and putting in endless hours away from the Bees creating masterpieces of remembrance. But if you know Celia, you know that her mastery of the sewing crafts comes naturally because it’s in her heritage. Originally from LA, Celia grew up with a mother who was a lifelong seamstress. “When I was young she worked in the bathing suit industry, first as a pattern maker and then as a designer,” Celia says. “I couldn’t help but absorb some of her skills.” Quilting has always been part of her needle-and-thread lifestyle. Besides creating unique Halloween costumes for her two daughters when they were young, Celia says, “I spent time in what one of my daughters calls my ‘quilt phase,’ where I enjoyed creating fun and beautiful quilts.”

A member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura for 37 years, Celia heard about Quilt Project Gold Coast from Andy Edgar-Beltran in a meeting at the church. She’s been coming to the Quilting bees ever since. “There are so many things I love about (the Quilters). Mostly I love the joy and laughter, as well as the respect and love that abounds within this group of dedicated people working together to honor the lives of those who have passed.” And she understands the Quilt Project’s mission of raising awareness about AIDS and honoring those lost.“We lost so many fine and creative people during that epidemic when so many had to hide so much of themselves. Their lives need to be honored in a positive way.

“As a former board member of the Ventura chapter of P-FLAG, I think it is important for young people to know that all people are honored,” Celia explains. “And the risk of AIDS is still there, so it is important to be safe!”

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Please contact us at (805) 569-0561 or quiltprojectgoldcoast@gmail.com
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