Longtime AIDS Arms volunteer created his own team last year after helping with the event for years


SHARP SHIRT | Joey Avila won first place in the team T-shirt contest last year. His shirt featured the names of people he and his friends knew who had died from AIDS over the years, including his friend Mario, whom he took care of while he was ill in the late ’80s. (Chuck Marcelo/Dallas Voice)


ANNA WAUGH  |  News Editor

Over the past two decades, Joey Avila has spent countless hours volunteering with AIDS organizations, but none of that time has been quite as addictive as his time with LifeWalk.

Avila has volunteered for AIDS Arms’ annual 5K LifeWalk fundraiser, now in its 23rd year, for nine years. He helped with everything from setup to parking until last year when he decided to raise money and walk himself.

“Last year I said, ‘You know what, put on your walking shoes and jump in and let’s do this thing,’” he said. “So now I got the bug.”

His participation with AIDS organizations goes well beyond his time with LifeWalk.

Avila’s friend Mario became ill in 1987. He was later diagnosed with AIDS and his family kicked him out, so Avila moved in with him to help. One night Mario became so ill, he needed to go the emergency room. Avila then convinced Mario’s aunt to take him in so he could die among his family and friends. He died shortly after his diagnosis.

Avila’s experience taking care of Mario without enough services to help AIDS patients in Dallas led him to volunteer with AIDS organizations.

“After that happened, I thought this can’t be happening to people all the time,” Avila said. “There’s got to be a stop to it. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough agencies back in that time to reach out and help as many people as they do now.”

But in 1989, he was diagnosed with HIV and he needed to find help for himself.

“My whole world just stopped and I thought, ‘Oh my god,’” Avila recalled.  “Back in the day, five years max is what they were giving people [to live].”

He thought he had syphilis and went to get tested at Dallas County Health and Human Services. When the nurse informed him that he had HIV, Avila said he asked what he could do and what resources there were for him.

“The nurse said, ‘I don’t know what to tell you and you need to find out on your own’ and just walked out and left me in the room,” he said.

Avila later remembered that someone had mentioned AIDS Arms and the services they offered to help HIV-positive people. He became a patient and soon after started volunteering with the organization that had helped save him when he had nowhere else to turn and no help from Dallas County.

“One thing led to another and since then I’ve been volunteering with them,” he said.

He now serves on the Dallas County Ryan White Planning Council allocation committee, a position he’s held since 2000.

His involvement with AIDS Arms includes his solo LifeWalk team, which raised more than $600 last year. His T-Shirt design, which listed the names of people he and his friends knew who had died from AIDS, won him the best team shirt contest.

Kelly Green, senior LifeWalk co-chair, said about 3,000 people are expected to participate at this year’s event on Sunday. As of Tuesday, Oct. 1, about $360,000 had been raised from teams toward the organizers’ fundraising goal of $475,000.

Green said organizers are going to interview walkers during the first part of the route in Lee Park about their experiences this year and why they decided to participate. They’re calling it Live from LifeWalk and it’ll be broadcast in front of BJ’s NXS and online. The interviews will also be released on DVD after the walk.

“We’re hoping it brings more memories,” Green said. “The idea is to create a more memorable walk.”

For Avila, the event has helped him raise many for an agency that he’s benefited from for years.

“It’s given me the opportunity to give back to this agency that has given so much to me,” he said. “It gives me the opportunity to feel like I’m giving back to somebody instead of feeling like I’m taking, taking, taking.”


23rd annual LifeWalk

LifeWalk begins at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6, at Lee Park, 3333 Turtle Creek Blvd.

People can register starting at 11 a.m. Broadcast of Live from LifeWalk will be from 1:15-1:45 p.m. at TinyURL.com/LWLive13.

For more information, visit LifeWalk.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 4, 2013.