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By Cathy Markes
FERNDALE – With a record 127 teams registered this year, thousands of supporters will be taking to the streets for AIDS WALK 2007. Produced by Steppin’ Out, runners and walkers will parade through the streets of suburban Royal Oak this coming Sunday for the 19th annual event.
Company sponsored teams, neighborhood groups, families and friends are scheduled to gather and travel the winding course as they raise money for HIV/AIDS agencies. Some teams choose to direct their contributions to a specific effort, other monies raised “are distributed among 21 HIV/AIDS agencies in southeast Michigan.”
Some teams make a virtual party of their involvement, like CARR’S COMPADRES, who plan to wear sombreros and bright shirts this year. In addition to their walk team funds, they’ve held a garage sale and road rally to boost their contribution.
In their six years of participating, Grosse Pointe North High School has increased their number of walkers every year. Starting out with a proud team of 12 in 2002, they will be represented by nearly 100 students this year. They count the walk as one of their most important functions.
“We have good parent support for this walk and it gives us a chance to make sure that everyone at North feels accepted,” explained Dan Gilleran, team leader of North’s Diversity Club. He and Danielle Dipert, as staff sponsors, work with the student body on diversity projects throughout the year.
Bill Thomas, one of founding members and current board member of Steppin’ Out, thinks that the walk’s “no fee participation” rule, has contributed the growth of the event. Another reason, he believes, is that they encourage comments on how to improve each year.
“That’s why we’ve brought the running element back. People have asked for it.”
Runners and walkers alike all seem enthusiastic about their opportunity to contribute.
Here is what some participating in Sunday’s event told BTL:
Team Dignity – Team Leader
A group of long time participants who identify themselves as a spiritual team of Roman Catholics
from Marygrove College. They enjoy the relaxed family atmosphere of the walk and feel that their
involvement adds to the local efforts “since so much government funding has been cut”.
Fifth Third Bank Team – Team Leader
In their second year of participation, they’ll have 22 walkers and a water station staffed with volunteers from across the company. They’ve adopted a screaming yellow shirt as their team uniform.
“We hope that our participation demonstrates our support of the community,” Rob told BTL. “We’d like to see AIDS brought down to a chronic illness from what can be a death sentence.”
He’s particularly invested in a large financial commitment this year.
“I’ve told too many people, that if we do not reach $5,000.00 in donations, that I’ll shave my head. We have a few hundred more to go to meet that goal.”
Midwest AIDS Prevention Project (MAPP)
Wearing black and pink t-shirts this year, 26 walkers will show their commitment to the community. “AIDS is not going away and youth are especially at risk. Everyone is at risk. (This walk) is a wonderful event and everyone’s effort is needed due to government funding decline and how much more difficult it has become to receive a grant,Ó said Mills.
“It’s more than just three letters for me.”
The walk is symbolic for him. It’s taught him as a person, that people coming together for this cause, can offset the stigma of HIV/AIDS. He sees that people taking a stand makes a statement.
“No man is an island unto himself, so as a human being, I care about what’s happening around me.”
As the HIV Prevention Specialist at Affirmations Community Center, he finds himself answering a lot of questions lately.
“It seems the closer we get to the AIDS WALK, the more people start talking. I’m glad they do.”
(pic at counter)
Karma Tea & Tonic
She may walk with a team and then again, she might choose to venture out on her own.
“I just want to be there. I believe AIDS should be eliminated and doing something, like walking, is better for me than writing a check.”
Grosse Pointe North High School – Team Leader
The class of 2004 began walking in their sophomore year, 2002. They chose the AIDS WALK as their community service act for that year. Student participation has increased every year since then with the support of parents and staff.
“Students believe that AIDS is an important cause. It gives them a tangible opportunity to show that they care.”
“They’ve chosen for their funding to go to SIMON HOUSE in northwest Detroit. They care for the needs of women and children infected with HIV/AIDS.”
Just 4 Us, Owner
“There should be about 20 of us walking this year. I have to walk. It’s taken too many of us.”
He hopes that a significant portion of the money raised will benefit AIDS education.
Elegance by Design
She plans on walking with her 16 year old daughter.
“I think that it’s important to show my daughter that participation matters and we both think that AIDS is a very important cause. It’s interesting and sad that this crosses the generations.”
ITC, Novi – Team Leader
Like many companies, ITC offers “Casual Fridays” and collects a small fee for that privilege. Angela approached her human resources manager and requested that one Friday, the donations would benefit the AIDS WALK. She had found the cause on volunteermatch.com, researched it and was determined to contribute. With management support, Angela sent an e-mail blast to her fellow employees where she found great support and interest.
“We like the idea of walking for a cause. Our group is very enthusiastic.”
Senior Communications Specialist at ITC, Cheryl Eberwein, offered, “Our employees are very generous with their time and energy. Everyone has been touched by this tragedy and, ITC employees want to be a part of a response toward a cure.”
ITC will have 14 walkers in its first year of involvement and the company is donating shirts for the team.
Job: Colleen and Leslie
He has been an active part of the LGBT community for many years and has little trouble raising funds for the AIDS WALK each year. Frequently, he walks with his best friend Chas.
He told a BTL reporter, that he walks to remind everyone, “That people infected with HIV/AIDS, can have trouble taking care of their pets the way that they’d like. Help someone out if you can.”
And, while very secondary, Beau is quite fond of the bagels that Panera Bread donates to the walkers each year.