Tuesday, December 6

AIDS Walk Ohio Aims to Raise Funds for HIV Programs (with Your Help!)

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Fact: a global pandemic can’t stop thousands of feet from walking. And AIDS Walk Ohio 2021 is counting on each and every one of us to embrace that truth.

Produced by Columbus-based Equitas Health, this year’s participants will each fundraise and complete a virtual 5K run/walk via a pandemic-friendly smartphone app. In the last eight years, the walk has raised over $2 million for AIDS service organizations in Ohio.

Of course, raising money isn’t the sole purpose of the event.

“This walk was birthed from a time where there was a lot of stigma attached to HIV,” says Heather Llewellyn, Director of Events and Donor Relations with Equitas Health. “It helps to create the awareness that, yes, HIV is still out there, but we’re doing our best to eradicate it.”

The Buckeye Flame spoke with Llewellyn about the history of the walk, the details of this year’s event, and, most importantly, how you can register to get involved. (Hint: go to AIDSWalkOhio.com.)

What’s the history of AIDS Walk Ohio?
[The event] started years ago and was many different walks with different entities. Then Columbus AIDS Task Force (CATF) took it over in 1995. CATF rebranded as AIDS Resource Center Ohio, then rebranded again as Equitas Health. We’ve been organizing this walk since 1995, so this is our 26th year. Its official title is the Robert J. Fass AIDS Walk. Dr. Fass was one of the premier physicians on the front lines of the crisis in the 80s and the 90s. When the walk merged into one event, all those different entities wanted to make sure to continue his legacy through the walk.

What will the 2021 event be like?
We began planning this event eight months ago when we were still deep into this pandemic. So, we had to pivot our plan and not do the traditional gathering again.

This year, we’re doing a virtual 5K run/walk that will all be hosted through an app. It’s really neat. You can go out and do your run anywhere in the world, and it will show you on the app where you are on the actual AIDS Walk course from years past. People have two weeks to complete their 5K—from April 29 to May 13. On May 13, we’re going to cap it all off at the South Drive-In Theatre in Columbus with a showing of the 2007 film, Hairspray.

What are your fundraising goals for this year?
Our goal is about $250,000 to $275,000 this year. And we’re keeping a pretty good pace.

How does the money raised during AIDS Walk Ohio help people and communities?
The money raised goes directly to our HIV programs at Equitas Health. It funds programs for HIV care and the health of the community.

But the walk also raises awareness. This event was birthed from a time where there was a lot of stigma attached to HIV. This walk helps break down that stigma. It helps create the awareness that, yes, HIV is still out there, but we’re doing our best to eradicate it.

There’s a campaign called U=U, and we lean on that a lot in the walk. It means “undetectable equals untransmittable.” That means if you know your status, can get it in control, and it’s undetectable, you cannot transmit the disease. And that’s the information that we are promoting now.

How can people get involved and register for the walk?
If you register by April 16, we’ll mail you a t-shirt and race bib and offer access to the app to track and share your progress. If you miss that date, you can still register or donate during the walk from April 29 to May 13. (And we can get a t-shirt mailed to you later.)

Do you think you’ll keep some of the virtual race elements in the future?
Yes. If there’s a silver lining to COVID and the pandemic, it’s all of the innovation and creativity to keep people active. Last year, we just shut down completely. This year, we’ve found this happy medium. Next year, we’ll go back to gathering, but we’ll also offer the virtual side of things. So, it’s the best of all the worlds that collided during the pandemic. 🔥

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About Author

Lisa Galek is a freelance writer and editor. Her writing has appeared in Cleveland Magazine, Northeast Ohio Parent, Refinery29, Northern Ohio Live, and on, literally, thousands of American Greetings cards. She lives in the suburbs of Cleveland with her husband and three very clever daughters.

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