AIDS Walk & Run to mark 23rd year Sept. 30
By Morgan M. Hurley | SDUN Assistant Editor
Thousands of people, from seasoned long-distance runners to first-time walkers, will hit the streets of San Diego to raise money for a cause that remains imminently important to many in the Uptown communities. AIDS Walk & Run San Diego marks its 23rd year on Sept. 30th, with the 10K runners beginning at 8 a.m. and runners and walkers participating in the 5K stepping off at 8:15 a.m. in Balboa Park.
With this year’s theme, “Who are you walking for?” the need for such an event is a fervent reminder that every nine and a half minutes, someone in the United States is infected with HIV.
Conducted by The San Diego LGBT Center with sponsor support from Geico Direct, Rich’s San Diego, the Sunshine Brooks Fund, BD Biosciences and the Issa Family Foundation, the region’s “largest one-day AIDS/HIV fundraiser” has been an annual watershed of needed funds for over two decades.
To further the race’s annual impact, The Center partners with the San Diego HIV Funding Collaborative, an organization that matches money raised with qualifying funds from other philanthropists and foundations. In 2011, this partnership distributed more than $400,000 to 10 local, community-based HIV/AIDS service organizations.
Aside from the thousands of runners and walkers who participate, AIDS Walk is comprised of hundreds of volunteers, all managed by Volunteer Coordinator Jerry Tomaszewicz Jr.
“As the Volunteer Resources Coordinator for The Center, coordinating volunteers for AIDS Walk is part of my job. However, on a personal level, my life has been touched countless times by HIV/AIDS,” Tomaszewicz said. “Some of the people closest to me are positive. I’ve watched friends go through the process of being diagnosed and then working through that diagnosis to live happy and productive lives.”
Tomaszewicz joined The Center in February, and said getting to know the volunteers, visitors and clients that pass through its doors on a daily basis has made him realize just how many people within the community have been touched by HIV and AIDS.
“I am honored to have a job where I can spend my time and energy helping fight this disease while supporting the people that live with it every day,” he said.
Though this will be his first year coordinating AIDS Walk volunteers, Tomaszewicz was a walker and team captain in 2010 and 2011. Prior to becoming a full-time staffer at The Center, he said he utilized many of the organization’s available services for years, which makes working side by side with others very meaningful to him.
“I personally think I have one of the best jobs at The Center because I get to work with such a wide array of people who selflessly contribute their time, energy and enthusiasm for an organization and a cause that I hold very dear to my heart,” he said.
Tomaszewicz recently experienced a very tangible result of his work and commitment.
“I was recently at an event in Balboa Park and was wearing an AIDS Walk T-shirt,” he said. “A woman approached me to let me know that her son was recently diagnosed with HIV, and she was looking for a way to support him. I told her about AIDS Walk & Run, and she got very excited and is volunteering with us this year.”
Volunteer commitments start weeks prior to race day, and many last for one week after the half-day event. Tomaszewicz said the organization relies on approximately 800 volunteers to make everything happen, and they are looking for more volunteers to complement their team.
“Our biggest need currently is for route monitors on Sunday morning as well as for route and site set-up on Saturday and breakdown on Sunday, but there are many other opportunities available,” he said. “No matter what someone’s skills or interests are, we can find them an exciting opportunity to help out with AIDS Walk.”
Volunteers may get perks, such as a T-shirt, lunch and other goodies, but Tomaszewicz said most take on the job because they truly want to make a difference.
One of the more fun aspects of AIDS Walk is being a part of one of the teams who not only walk together, but also get into the competitive spirit and find creative ways to raise their funds.
Many of the top 10 fundraising teams are comprised of large organizations, such as Sempra Energy – San Diego Gas & Electric and The Center – who are currently in the lead for fundraising with over $17,000 & $15,000 raised, respectively – but some are friends who commit to raise money together, such as Guys Like Us, who are currently in third place having raised over $10,000 so far.
In addition to the big money teams, there are two categories of high-impact, individual fundraisers. These people get special recognition through The C-Note Crew, those who raise over $100, and the Extra Mile Club, those who raise over $1,000. Teams Coordinator Ian Johnson, a volunteer with AIDS Walk since 2007, runs both groups.
Johnson, who worked at Martinis Above Fourth at the time, helped start the very successful MA4 team and raised $7,000 that initial year. This year, the team is currently in fifth place, with over $9,500 raised to date.
Johnson’s reasons for getting involved are, like many others, personal.
“Years ago a friend of mine, Brent, helped me when I needed it,” Johnson said. “He soon after became very ill from AIDS complications. I wanted to get involved in memory of him and since then, unfortunately, the list has grown.”
In the past two years Johnson lost three friends, some without access to services in San Diego, he said, adding that over 12,000 people in San Diego County are living with HIV or AIDS.
“My inspiration and drive to keep fundraising has come from the many stories I have heard: from losing loved ones, to teams formed for a friend who is living and struggling, to a son creating a team in memory of his father who contracted HIV/AIDS through a blood transfusion,” Johnson said. “HIV/AIDS is affecting every demographic. The stories are powerful and encourage me more and more to make a difference.”
Extra Mile Club members wear a crown the day of the race, but in Johnson’s eyes, they are all “amazing.”
Individual participants can register until the morning of the race, with day-of registration between 6 and 7:30 a.m. for $35 at the intersection of Sixth Avenue and Quince Street in Bankers Hill.
Parking and shuttle services will be available between the Naval Hospital and Olive Street at Fifth Avenue. There will be no parking allowed on Sixth Avenue between Juniper Street and University Avenue, or on Balboa Drive between Upas and Juniper streets.
For complete information, including route map, registration and volunteer opportunities, visit aidswalksd.org or call 619-291-9255.