Long before Pittsburgh started charting high on those desirable cities lists, some visitors were aware of its potential charms. Thirty-five years ago, Richard Parsakian came to Pittsburgh from his native Latham, New York as a Vista Volunteer in its architect’s workshop. He came to provide architectural services for low income families and nonprofits. “The idea that I could contribute and help, this was very important to me in terms of my volunteerism,” Richard emphasizes. Richard decided to stay, and now he uses his study of architecture to provide event designs for nonprofits.
“I believe in the organizations I do work for. I believe in trying to help those organizations survive. They need funding and I have a talent that can help with that funding. I use the resources I have to help people,” Richard explains. A former board member of Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, he still does work for them on a project by project basis. Other organizations that have benefitted from Richard’s vision include PrideFest, Pittsburgh Dance Council, Persad Center, Pittsburgh Glass Center, Dance Alloy, Attack Theater, Quantum Theater, Planned Parenthood, Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, and the Ellsworth Avenue Street Fair.
Larry Leahy, DDS, a friend who nominated Richard for this award, says, “Richard is truly inspirational and is a tremendous asset to the city. He works endlessly for the betterment of all communities in Pittsburgh. He is tireless in his organization of countless benefits and fundraisers.”
The self-described “center of my universe” is Richard’s vintage fashion store, Eons. He says, “It seems that everything I do emanates from the store. There I meet the people from nonprofit organizations when they stop in for clothes and costumes for an event. It starts with that and I’m glad to supply further help.”
“I am moved to receive the Dignity & Respect Champion award,” Richard says. He continues, “It’s an unexpected honor. It parallels my thinking in how I treat people and how I want to be treated. I like to think of myself as a supportive person for people who don’t have a strong voice. As an openly gay man, I have always been there as a voice for the LGBT community. Now I’m also acknowledged as an advocate for women who need access to healthcare, kids who are coming out, and the arts community.”
Richard believes that treating people with esteem can help bring communities together, regardless how separate their subcultures might seem. He describes how he saw a manifestation of this at his popular “Divas of Drag” event, “I looked out into a mixed audience and saw performers whose talents had been hidden in bars interacting with a new audience. There was a community of people having a great time in a non-threatening environment, a wonderful atmosphere of performance and acceptance between gay and straight cultures.”