The War on AIDS can be won

The Last Walk (we talked the walk and we walked the walk)

When we started this fundraising initiative 14 years ago we never saw the end in sight. AIDS and HIV were rampant not just in Africa and big cities, but all over the world including our little Belleville.  And here we are - we walked the LAST WALK.

Yes, the Rotary Club of Belleville’s Rotary Poker Walk for HIV- AIDS, formally known as the Trump AIDS Poker Walk is all walked out.

The war against HIV/AIDS is not over yet though. 1.8 Million new cases keep arising each year, in every walk of life, men, women, children, in every country around the world. You can continue to support Rotary’s campaign to turn the tide on AIDS by going here: toronto.rotaryaidswalk.ca

This all started 15 years ago when the Rotary Club of Belleville brought the documentary movie A Closer Walk, to Belleville’s Empire Theatre. It was a dynamic evening of discovery and the movie really engaged us and galvanized our spirit to do something to help.

After two years of unsuccessful AIDS Walks at which hardly anyone showed up, committed Rotarians Ken Dickson, John Smale and Michael Maloney joined Mark Bishop at his home to brainstorm a solution. The greatest obstacle seemed to be the grim nature of the AIDS pandemic itself, along with the strong taboos, revulsion and fear associated with AIDS. Somehow, we had to come up with a way to make the Walk a fun event.

So we schemed and spritzed all kinds of ideas around for a fundraiser. Finally Michael Maloney sketched out, literally on the back of a napkin, the concept for a walk where teams would pick up a card at stops along the way to build a poker hand, much the way the poker runs in speed boats were doing around the Bay of Quinte. Viola!

The ideas flowed from that night and soon we had a well-rounded fun event planned along a waterfront and downtown walk. That first day included an evening gala and a well respected guest speaker from the Stephen Lewis Foundation. It was a success on many levels and a great template upon which to build an annual event that would engage and educate.

Peter Smith suggested there were just too many galas and what we needed was a more casual day where we could finish up by early afternoon. It would still take lots of Rotarian volunteers and a hard working committee to gather and organize teams, sponsorships, prizes, signs, ribbons, walk route set up and clean up and all sorts of other duties.

After 12 years of walking we decided to really simplify the day by having a “virtual walk” - just around the multi-purpose room at the Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre. And we added the Red Ribbon board game meant to educate and engage us around the subject of AIDS and HIV. We can all agree that was a terrific success  and we have learned many overarching facts about HIV AIDS in a fun, competitive and entertaining way.

All in all, we have had tremendous successes and have raised in our history over $880,000. That includes the Toronto Walk initiated by Rotarian Ken Dickson, which has been running for 10 years including a number of clubs in the GTA area. The money we have raised goes to our Belleville Rotary Club’s AIDS Action Committee for guided distribution to the many important recipients including clinics, orphanages, schools, hospitals and other NGOs both internationally and right here at home. The Grannies for Africa teams use their fundraising dollars to support the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Historically there is so much to recount. Our muse has always been Rotarian Dr. Ruth Mathieson who inspired us to continue even when we were low on energy and volunteers. She has run the AIDS Action Committee for years and has reported that AIDS is not the death sentence it once was, as there are amazing anti-viral drugs that are prolonging the lives of many. As well there is better education to help prevent contracting the disease.

Our club’s mandate is to support children and youth to help them survive, thrive and realize their full potential. Through this walk we have always said it is not just about those infected - it is about those affected by the plague we have simply called AIDS. The children are certainly not unscathed by the disease - they have lost parents, siblings, friends and family and many have have to fend for themselves as orphans or have been raised by their grandmothers.

Over the years we have had a number of chairpersons including Mark Bishop, Chris Finkle, Doug Peterson, Mike Henry and John Smale. We have been fortunate to work with many great committee members and we have become close and fast friends through this great association of working on this worthy worldwide cause.

The teams have changed over the years but the support has always been enthusiastic. It is after all, the teams and individuals who reached out to friends, associates and family for their generosity and understanding. 

As a committee, we thank you for your support. Thank you for making this a fun day each year. And THANK YOU for the money you have raised to help those in need. We have all made a difference together and I think we should applaud ourselves for not only caring for a cause that has plenty of stigma surrounding it, but doing something about making the world a better and safer place.

Our shoes may be a little worn from walking but our hearts are still committed to helping in other ways in the on-going fight to conquer HIV/AIDS.

Teens talking to Teens about HIV/AIDS