Balance Tampa Bay’s Avant Garde masquerade to benefit EPIC

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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TAMPA | Balance Tampa Bay will hold its fourth annual masquerade ball Aug. 4 in Tampa Heights to benefit Empath Partners in Care (EPIC).

Balance Tampa Bay is an LGBTA volunteer organization that focuses on promoting fellowship, fun and philanthropy throughout the LGBTQ community. The organization’s annual masquerade ball has benefited EPIC since the event’s inception, with 2017’s gathering raising $32,000 for the nonprofit dedicated to providing services to those impacted by HIV/AIDS throughout the region.

“Our theme this year is Avant Garde,” Balance Tampa Bay’s masquerade Event Chair Ryan Young says. “We wanted to go with something that was different and that we hadn’t seen in a while. Avant Garde is something that’s new and unusual; it deals with the arts or society as a whole and can be controversial or push boundaries.”

Avant Garde attendees will don masks and creative attire at Armature Works, the fully restored 22,000-square-foot industrial market featuring an open floor plan in Tampa Heights. Young says the location was chosen to add to the event’s expansive and immersive experience, which this year includes “unparalleled ambiance, an open bar evening and energy provided by the one and only DJ Toy Armada.”

“This masquerade will be groundbreaking,” Young says. “We’re trying to make it much larger in scale and very different from what we’ve done previously.” He notes that the decor will be experimental in nature, in line with this year’s theme, and will include displays representing “the different services EPIC provides and the emotions that one can feel” while working with the organization.

The nonprofit’s services include HIV testing, medical case management, counseling, housing assistance and more, EPIC’s Executive Director Joy Winheim says. “Our doors are open for anyone that needs us,” she notes. “If you need help with meeting your basic needs, with getting into the doctor, with getting tested, with getting education or social support for mental health, we are there. That’s first and foremost.”

Winheim, who also works closely with Balance Tampa Bay, says funds from the masquerade balls are utilized wherever they’re most needed. “We evaluate our budget process every year,” she says. “If we need it for food pantries, we’ll use it for food pantries. If we need it to help pay rent for people, we’ll pay rent for people. If we need it for medication co-pays, we’ll use it there.All of our programs need assistance now and then.”

Above all, Young says that the event exists to raise awareness about EPIC and its community services. “It’s so important because it’s supporting an organization that has such a huge influence within the community,” he says. “The event supports HIV and AIDS-related services, something that’s not often talked about.”

“The people at Balance just want to help other people, and they’re trying to get other people involved in helping other people,” Winheim adds. “It’s such an amazing feeling to be a part of that.”

While the work EPIC does is critical and raising awareness is key, Winheim says, she also stresses that the masquerade is a celebration. “We’re not sticking the cause in your face,” she muses. “It’s so much fun and it’s just a bonus that EPIC gets to be the beneficiary. It’s another avenue for us to get the word out there about who EPIC is, what we do and why the community still needs us.”

Balance Tampa Bay’s 21+ Avant Garde will be held Saturday, Aug. 4 at 8 p.m. – 1 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 5 at Armature Works, located at 1910 N. Ola Ave. in Tampa. Advance tickets are $80 and increase Aug. 4. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit TampaMasquerade.com.

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