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Friday, May 9, 2008

AIDS group gets new director

By Maria Garriga
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— Chris Cole of Los Angeles stepped off the train in New York a few weeks ago and, much to his surprise, into a new job as executive director of AIDS Project New Haven.
He assumed the position Wednesday.
Fighting AIDS through fundraising happens to be Cole’s passion, but he recently left his high profile job as a national AIDS fundraiser with the hope of finding a quieter life.
A friend, surprised to see Cole in New York, suggested he contact mutual friends about an executive director job that had opened up in an AIDS-focused agency.
Ellen Gabriellele, executive director of AIDS Project New Haven, planned to retire June 1 and wanted a suitable replacement, someone familiar with HIV/AIDS issues, services and fundraising. Cole had it all.
Cole had lived in Los Angeles and San Francisco for the past 10 years and raised millions as executive director for HIV/AIDS related organizations, most recently AIDS/Lifecycle Bike Ride.
AIDS/Lifecycle Bike Ride recently drew 3,000 participants to the 7-day, 545-mile trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
Cole, 37, had left his most post to spend time taking care of his health. He has been HIV positive for the past three years.
The intense travel schedule made it difficult for him to care for himself. Cole envisioned himself working and to be involved in a direct care, grass-roots AIDS care agency in a small city.
He moved to Litchfield, where his mother lives, which kept him close to his native New York where other family members live.
New Haven turned out to be a perfect fit.
“New Haven is a small city with a lot of culture,” he said.
The warmth and compassionate attitude of staff at AIDS Project New Haven made him feel welcome.
He believes he can help the agency grow, expand fundraising and improve client services.
“I’ve built my career on slow, steady, incremental growth,” he said.
Richter Elser, chairman of AIDS Project New Haven and of the New Haven Republican Town Committee, said Cole’s application to be director came as a pleasant surprise.
The two became friends during a fundraiser in 1996. “He was one of the first people to make me passionate about AIDS fundraising,” he said.
Elser also serves as chairman of the New Haven Republican Town Committee. Thirty people had applied for the director position at AIDS Project New Haven and the board selected 12 for interviews.
Cole’s experience in raising millions gave him the edge needed to win the job.
“We want to be less dependent on government funding and more dependent on our own fundraising,” Elser said. “He has a demonstrated ability to raise funds and he has enthusiasm and passion for the cause.”
Gabrielle said Cole’s track record left her relieved she had left the agency in good hands.
Elser said when Gabrielle arrived at the agency 10 years ago, the agency’s financial situation was tenuous and the agency need more administration and direction.
“She stabilized AIDS Project New Haven, we want him to grow it,” Elser said.
Maria Garriga can be reached at mgarriga@nhregister.com or 789-5726.

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