Houston’s 25th annual AIDS Walk on Sunday, March 9, hopes to raise $600,000 to help AIDS Foundation Houston (AFH) and local AIDS service organizations support HIV education and prevention efforts and provide care for thousands of Houstonians living with HIV/AIDS.
Registration begins at 8 a.m. at Sam Houston Park in downtown Houston, says Melody Patelis, chief development officer for AFH.
Opening ceremonies start at 9 a.m. Revving up the crowd will be Ruben Galvan, KPRC Local 2’s lively features and entertainment reporter. “All of us watch Ruben on KPRC, and we thought he would be an amazing person to work with,” says Patelis. “I wake up and get on the treadmill and watch him in the mornings. He’s hysterical.”
AFH calls the yearly AIDS Walk Houston the city’s single greatest response in the fight against the epidemic. “It’s so much more than fundraising,” explains Patelis. “People wear T-shirts and carry banners with names of loved ones they’ve lost. It’s their time to remember their loved ones.
“You will see everyone: there are people at every socioeconomic level, which translates into how everyone is affected by HIV/AIDS,” she says.
Walkers will enjoy Starbucks coffee and snacks donated by H-E-B before the Walk “steps off” at 10 a.m. as participants hike down Allen Parkway toward Montrose Boulevard.
AFH produces the Walk, which is underwritten by Marathon Oil, as a program to benefit AFH as well as provide a venue for other agencies to raise funds. “Each individual benefiting agency gets out of it what they put into it,” explains Patelis. They are aided by individual walkers, teams, and corporate groups representing about 5,000 Houstonians who register as fundraisers at aidshelp.org.
The agencies partici-ticipating this year include Baylor College of Medicine Teen Health Clinic, Bering Omega Community Services, Bread of Life/St. John’s Church, Brentwood Community Foundation, Crisis Intervention of Houston, Lazarus House: A Center for Wellness, LIVE Consortium, Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, and Houston’s Spay-Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP).
“Normally, the event doesn’t have a chair, but we thought because this is the 25th anniversary, it would be appropriate to have a chair,” explains Patelis. And the man for the job is . . . George Lancaster, the head of communications at Hines, a major international real-estate firm. Galvan is the event’s co-chair, with former heavyweight champion George Foreman the honorary chair and grand marshal.
Lancaster is a graduate of Southern Methodist University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in communications. He also serves as board chair for Stages Repertory Theatre and sits on the boards of Houston’s HSPVA Friends and the Meadows Museum in Dallas.
Lancaster brings his extensive experience in marketing and public relations to AIDS Walk Houston. “George is very hands-on,” says Patelis.
“He’s very involved in the day-to-day planning of the event. When he decided to chair, he put his full self in it and decided to raise the most money.”
At deadline, Lancaster was second in fundraising with pledges of $11,810 toward his goal of $20,000. Atop the leader board was Paulette Goodreau, who set a goal of $3,000 but had already raised $13,315. Goodreau said she’s walking for a woman named Annette who found a respite from her cancer in the people of Lazarus House.
In third place was Team Bering Omega’s John B. Connally with $7,405 on the way to his goal of $9,000.
Others announced on social media that they have reached their goals and are now setting higher ones.
Visit aidswalkhouston.org to follow the fundraising progress of individuals, teams, and corporate groups.
“We hope that the philanthropic spirit will peak during this milestone 25th year. Giving online is so easy, and no gift is too small or too large,” says Lancaster.
“Strive for 25!” is a theme of the 25th anniversary of AIDS Walk Houston, says Patelis.
“One of the ways we are going to do this is by asking 25 professional and community groups to competitively participate to receive the most donations,” she explains. “We’re challenging team captains to strive to secure at least 25 team members and teams to strive to raise a minimum of $2,500 and encouraging everyone to make a minimum donation of $25.”
AFH began as a grassroots organization of individuals who helped those dying of AIDS in the 1980s, Patelis explains. The individuals delivered food to those suffering, helped find housing for those without a roof over their heads, advocated for treatment, and comforted those whose bodies could no longer fight the incurable disease.
“Growing up as a teenager in the 1980s, I remember the fear all of us had when we didn’t know what was happening,” says Patelis, a native Houstonian. “For me, the AIDS Walk goes back to why I do this: to connect, to remember and help others, and prevent infection. For teenagers who were not even born in the 1980s, small changes in their behavior can keep them from having to live with the disease for the rest of their lives.”
Houston mayor Annise Parker, who will be absent this year due to her travel schedule, says, “The AIDS Walk is an opportunity for the whole community to come together and rally around the important effort to reduce the impact of HIV and AIDS in our city. One out of 93 people in Houston is HIV-positive and the city ranks eighth in the U.S. in number of reported cases. March 9 is a great day for Houstonians from all walks of life to get out, walk, donate, and remember that the fight is not over until we get to zero.”
What: 25th Annual AIDS Walk Houston
When: Sunday, March 9
Where: Sam Houston Park in downtown Houston
Donalevan Maines also writes about Lone Star Volleyball Association in this issue of OutSmart magazine.