Fundraiser celebrates a quarter-century of making a difference for those with HIV/AIDS
LifeWalk organizer Tori Hobbs said this year’s 25th annual event will truly be a celebration: “Look back to where the epidemic was 25 years ago. People were still dying. New drugs were just coming out. People are now going to live a normal life.”
But she cautioned that Dallas is still one of 12 cities with the highest infection rates and most new cases. “We have to keep up that awareness,” she urged.
So LifeWalk isn’t just an event that raises money for client services at a number of Dallas organizations, the event raises awareness throughout the area.
AIDS Arms is the primary beneficiary of the walk, but other AIDS organizations receive LifeWalk funds, including Resource Center, Abounding Prosperity, AIDS Services Dallas and AIDS Interfaith Network. The Turtle Creek Chorale’s AIDS fund covers special needs of their members.
A new beneficiary this year is Cathedral of Hope, which has had an AIDS fund to help its members since the beginning of the AIDS crisis. The church is hoping to reinvigorate that program through its new partnership with LifeWalk.
Paul Kolasci, a volunteer with Cathedral of Hope, said the church is planning to partner with the area AIDS agencies to see how they can make a difference.
Kolasci recently noticed an article in AIDS Arms’ newsletter saying the agency was running a school supply drive for clients’ children. He called to ask how many they hoped to help, and was told the goal was 100. Cathedral stepped up and provided school supplies for 175.
In the past the COH fund directly helped church members with AIDS who had specific needs. The church might cover a member’s rent while he was in the hospital or help with doctor’s copays. Recently, money in the fund paid for a cremation after the church received a call that the family of a homeless person couldn’t afford the expense.
Kolasci said the church is exploring new ways to supplement the work area agencies are doing and to make itself available to those agencies with services it already provides. “We’re excited to partner again with AIDS Arms and LifeWalk,” he declared.
Hobbs described LifeWalk participants as loyal when she compared Dallas statistics with those of AIDS walks in other cities. The Dallas walk has a 50 percent return rate while the average return rate is around 16 percent.
And LifeWalk teams have raised a lot of money. The Green Team, returning for its 24th year, is not only loyal but is closing in on a half million dollars.
Green Team founder Marvin Green said his team started with just three walkers, each donating $25. Now, his team starts in February raising money with monthly events including shows, cookouts, tea dances and silent auctions.
This year the team added the Red Basket Affair at the Bridge Bistro. The event was a silent auction, but rather than buying the baskets for themselves, bidders bought baskets of merchandise and gift cards to give to AIDS Arms clients. Green said the auction raised $3,400 for LifeWalk and about $1,400 in goods and services for clients.
Green is passionate in his commitment to LifeWalk.
“I’m walking because I’ve lost 26 friends to AIDS. We lost team members who walked,” he said, and then added sadly, “My whole core of friends from the 80s is gone.”
Then he looked to the future and said for his team’s 25th anniversary next year, they have even more planned. Credit, he stressed goes to the members of his team: “I couldn’t do it without the Green Team members.”
While the Green Team has participated since the walk’s second season, they’re not alone in their loyalty or success. The Guys &
Dolls team, now in its 19th year, is closing in on $1 million raised over the years.
Team Clover, a newer team that’s quickly gotten large, is this year’s top fundraiser so far and its team captain, Terry Bax, is this year’s top fundraiser.
Team Clover recently held a putt-putt event that turned all the bars on Cedar Springs into a miniature golf course. Each bar had a golf hole. The Round-Up Saloon had more than one. Not only did the bars set up the greens, but they also contributed directly to Team Clover. With 52 golf teams participating, Team Clover raised $11,500 in one afternoon.
Bax said he participated in LifeWalk eight years ago before he moved away from Dallas. When he returned three years ago, he wanted to get involved again.
His individual goal this year is $35,000. Since he’s only at $28,000, he scheduled a drag show at Cedar Springs Tap House for 7-10 p.m. on Sept. 20. The bar is celebrating its one-year anniversary and is donating 10 percent of all beer and liquor sales to support Bax’s efforts.
Bax has one more fundraising secret.
“I beg my friends until they give,” he said.
LifeWalk begins and ends in Lee Park, where the event began 25 years ago and where it has had its most success. Originally called Walk for Life, the first walk in 1988 was held in Lee Park. The second moved to Winfrey Point at White Rock Lake.
Penny Stark-Lessley, chair of the second Walk for Life, told Dallas Voice at the time they wanted to “mainstream” the event.
By 1991, the event was renamed LifeWalk and had returned to Lee Park.
After Oak Lawn Community Services, the event’s original producer, closed in 2000 and transferred LifeWalk to AIDS Arms, that agency in the early 2000s moved the walk downtown. Although the route went through the first floor of Neiman Marcus, the
LGBT community saw the move from Oak Lawn as a snub to the gay community and participation declined.
Since returning to Lee Park, the walk has built steadily, raising a record $592,000 last year.
Hobbs said LifeWalk is one of the largest grassroots AIDS walks in the country. Larger walks in cities like New York and Los Angeles are run by professional fundraising organizations that charge hefty fees. LifeWalk is mostly a volunteer-run effort, so all the money raised at LifeWalk after minimal expenses is returned to the beneficiaries, she said.
While LifeWalk’s loyal teams and individual walkers have already registered and many spent the summer raising money for the walk, Hobbs encouraged people to continue registering. About 600 have already signed up online. Usually 1,200 register by the day of the walk and then three times as many show up the day of the walk to participate.
A donation of $25 allows any individual to participate in the walk and get a t-shirt.
Individuals who raise $1,000 will be entered into a drawing for a trip for two to Maui. They’ll get one entry for every thousand raised. The winners will stay at Howard Okon’s house on Maui. Okon owns the Brick/Joe’s.
LifeWalk sponsors have been loyal as well. Six — including Dallas Voice — have been on board since its first year.
A pre-party this year takes place at S4 on Sept. 27. The cover band M80s performs and the event is sponsored by Avita.
In addition to tents and tables set up in Lee Park for groups and vendors, there will be a display of quilt panels in Lee Park during and after the walk. Food trucks will be parked around the park.
Hobbs said volunteers are still needed and can register online.
To register to walk or volunteer, visit LifeWalk.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 18, 2015.