For Kelly Smith, volunteering at AOC and participating in the AIDS Walk is a family affair — in more ways than 1
TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
When she was growing up, Kelly Smith always thought of her uncle, Brad, as more of a brother and friend than an uncle.
“He was my dad’s only brother. He was a chef, a great cook, and when my parents opened up Tommy’s Hamburgers, he helped them out a lot,” Smith said. “He was only 10 years older than me, and I grew up hanging out with him and his friends.”
But then AIDS struck, Kelly said, “and I lost Brad. I’ve lost his partner, and I’ve lost all of his friends but one. It was devastating.”
But before he died in 1994, Brad Smith introduced his niece to Tarrant County’s AIDS Outreach Center and the agency’s annual AIDS Walk. In the years since, the bond between Kelly and that agency has grown ever stronger, giving her an opportunity, she said, to honor the memories of her uncle and friends by helping those still living with HIV.
“I did the AIDS Walk with Brad in 1992 and 1993 before he died in 1994. Then by the mid-90s, I started getting more involved. I became a team captain and started getting other people to walk with me.”
But Kelly didn’t limit her involvement to the AIDS Walk: She joined the center’s board of directors three years ago and is now vice president of the board.
Still, the AIDS Walk holds a special place in her heart.
“It’s my passion. It’s my calling. I truly love it,” she said. “This year is my fourth year to be co-chair of the walk, and it’s going to be the best one ever.
“My partner, Holly Edwards, works for Luke’s Locker, and now Luke’s has come on as a walk sponsor. It’s always so much fun to be part of the walk, but it’s even better now because this is something that we do together,” Kelly said.
Supporting the LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities has always been something of a family affair for the Smiths, starting with her parents, who own Tommy’s Hamburgers.
They first opened the restaurant in 1983 in an old Texaco station in Lake Worth. The second location opened 19 years ago on Green Oaks, and nine years ago the third location on Camp Bowie — where Kelly usually works — opened its doors.
Tommy’s has long been a meeting place for LGBT community groups, like Stonewall Democrats of Tarrant County, and a sponsor for events like AIDS Walk.
That support obviously grew out of the family’s love and support for Brad and Kelly, but it may have been kick-started by some people’s response to news of Brad’s HIV-positive status.
“We had a lot of people back then calling and saying things like, ‘Do all of you have AIDS?’ People were so confused about AIDS, about what it was and how it was spread,” Kelly recalled.
Kelly went to college first at Texas Wesleyan then graduated from Texas Christian University. She taught school for a few years, but then decided what she really wanted to do was return to the family business. And now she is in charge of marketing and buying for Tommy’s Hamburgers.
“It’s certainly never boring around here,” Kelly said. “I love working with my family and meeting the customers. But what I really love about this job is that it gives me the time to do volunteer work at AIDS Outreach Center.”
And that volunteer work is really about family, too: “There’s a great group of people at AIDS Outreach, like a family,” Kelly said. “It’s a group of people all coming together with one goal — to get services to the people who need them.”
Right now, that group is all coming together to kick off the agency’s 25th anniversary year with a successful 19th annual AIDS Walk. And although the walk accounts for only a relatively small percentage of AIDS Outreach Center’s overall budget, Kelly said it is one of the agency’s most popular annual events.
“This is the one fundraiser we do that everyone can participate in. You can bring your children. You can bring your pets. It’s just a lot of fun for everyone,” she said.
Kelly is getting close to her own 20th anniversary with AIDS Outreach, and that’s a long time to work or volunteer in the world of AIDS — burnout is often an issue.
But not for Kelly Smith.
“Things have changed over the years,” she said. “People are more receptive to donating to the cause and being involved. But at the same time, some things haven’t changed. People are still getting infected.
“Just recently, I reconnected with an old friend I hadn’t seen in awhile,” she continued. “He told me he is positive. On the one hand, it made me feel good that he felt comfortable enough with me, that he trusted me enough to tell me something so personal. But on the other hand, it was very hard to hear that someone else I know, a friend who is such a wonderful guy, has HIV.
“I was feeling safe again, I guess. And then my friend tells me he is infected. It just drives me more, makes me want to do more and work harder,” Kelly said. “I won’t stop. I can’t stop. Until there’s a cure, I’ll never stop.”
The 19th annual AIDS Outreach Center AIDS Walk will be held Sunday, April 3, beginning at the pavilion near 7th Street in Fort Worth’s Trinity Park. The event begins at 1 p.m., and the walk steps off at 2:30 p.m. Pre-registration is $25, available online at AOC.org. Registration the day of the walk is $30 and starts at 12:30 p.m. at Luke’s Locker, 2600 W. 7th St.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.