Here Comes the Sun
Sunburst Projects thrives under new leadership
By Jessica Laskey
Sunburst Projects’ new executive director Jacob Bradley-Rowe likes to say that he’s proud of his organization—a nonprofit that empowers children, women and families living with HIV—for always taking the extra step. The same could be said of Bradley-Rowe himself.
Bradley-Rowe has dedicated nearly two decades of his life to nonprofit work, both as a staffer and volunteer. The interest in giving back to his community was instilled in him from an early age—as the sixth generation of his family to raise cattle and sheep in Grass Valley, Bradley-Rowe spent his childhood deeply involved with 4H and FFA.
After studying at the University of London, King’s College, through UC Davis, Bradley-Rowe returned to Sacramento to work for Donate Life California, helping develop the “pink dot” organ donor network, which now boasts more than 10 million registered donors.
He’s also served on a variety of nonprofit boards, including Sacramento Pride, NorCal AIDS Cycle, Friends of the California State Fair, National FFA Foundation, Cultivating Change Foundation, Sacramento LGBT Community Center and Imperial Court of Sacramento, the oldest active LGBT organization in Sacramento. Bradley-Rowe’s alter ego, drag queen Precious Cargo, was the 35th Empress named to the court.
But Bradley-Rowe hasn’t just donated time and money to these nonprofits—he’s also planned and executed many of their fundraisers as the owner of event-planning company Royal Events. In its 12 years of existence, Royal Events has helped raise more than $5 million for local charities. Bradley-Rowe closed the company in 2015 when he went to work for Tesla as business development director.
Bradley-Rowe first became aware of Sunburst Projects’ important work in 2008 when he helped organize the Capital City AIDS Fund’s Sacramento Valley AIDS Run Walk (Sunburst was one of many beneficiaries). He was asked to join the board, then he temporarily helped manage staff and programs as a volunteer when the former executive director vacated the position. After successfully seeing the nonprofit through the beginning of the pandemic, Bradley-Rowe was officially hired in May.
“I inherited an organization rich in history, but with some struggles,” Bradley-Rowe says of the project initially founded in 1982 as a summer camp for children living with cancer. It then became the nation’s first therapeutically designed summer camp for children living with HIV. Sunburst Projects incorporated as a nonprofit in 1990 and now provides support services, counseling, case management and mental health services to those living with HIV.
“COVID impacted us in the beginning, but we managed to do a complete 180, growing our programs and staff thanks to a new allocation from the (Health Resources and Services Administration’s) Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program grant, which provides the majority of our funding,” Bradley-Rowe says.
In addition to providing crucial services, such as counseling (a free mental health clinic is scheduled to launch in January), Sunburst focuses on HIV/AIDS prevention and education, which Bradley-Rowe says is “just as big an issue as it was 20 years ago.” He explains that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 37,000 new HIV infections in the U.S. in 2018—many of them in women and children.
“We’re seeing a demographic change in the age when kids first become sexually active,” Bradley-Rowe says. “It’s now 18 to 24, so we’re focused on reaching that demographic. The work that has to be done in this country is to get everyone tested. We can get to zero new transmissions if we push U = U.”
U = U is Undetectable = Untransmittable, which indicates that if a person with HIV is on antiretroviral therapy medication with a consistently undetectable HIV viral load, the virus cannot be transmitted to a sexual partner.
“We have to try and look at things from different perspectives to continue to grow and reach more people,” Bradley-Rowe says. “I feel like all of my experience in fundraising, tech and grassroots ties to the community are coming together to give me the skills to lead this organization to a new place.
“I love knowing the work we’re doing is helpful. I believe I’m where I should be.”
For more information, visit sunburstprojects.org.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.