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February 27, 2009

AIDS Walk this spring will be Cleveland’s final one

Cleveland--The Dr. John T. Carey Memorial AIDS Walk will be in the spring instead of the fall this year, but the 19th annual fundraiser will also be the last.

“We moved the walk to May because that’s actually when we have always wanted to do it,” said AIDS Taskforce of Cleveland walk coordinator Jill Rembrandt. “The Plain Dealer, who used to be the presenting sponsor of the walk, wanted it in the fall, so as not to compete with another major event they sponsored, so we chose to do it in October in the past.”

So this year, instead of early October, the march will be held on May 30.

As in the last few years, it will be held in University Circle. That venue gives walkers, attendees and their families the opportunity to visit the city’s top cultural attractions, like the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Natural History Museum and the Cleveland Botanical Gardens.

The change in date is simple to understand. The end of the event, however, seems more baffling when taking into account its success over the years.

Nationally, however, revenue from such walks have decreased steadily, and many have ended, including the Dayton AIDS walk, which benefited the AIDS Resource Center Ohio, and the Toledo walk, which raised funds for David’s House, now a part of ARC Ohio.

ARC Ohio held their last walk in 2001, when they were still called AIDS Foundation Miami Valley. The following year, they changed their name, expanded to cover 21 counties and replaced the walk with a masquerade ball called Masquerage. At the time, executive director Bill Hardy noted that walk attendance and fundraising was declining, and he pointed to other walks around the country that were ending.

Rembrandt pointed to similar factors.

“It really has just reached the end of its proverbial life cycle,” she said. “It’s been 18 years, and is running out of steam.”

“We decided that it was time to end it before it gradually ended itself by having less and less participants as time went on,” she continued. “We are hoping that in the coming year we will be able to reinvent the fundraiser as more of a celebration of life . . . live music, food, and a great way to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS.”

“It may not raise the money we are used to, but it will spread the word, which is just as critical to fighting this disease,” she concluded.

Another factor in ending the event is the preponderance of similar ones.

“As you have probably noticed, practically every disease out there has a walk, or run, and people get overwhelmed and desensitized,” she noted. “Last year when I was talking to University Hospitals about their sponsorship, they told me they were approached to sponsor 42 walks in Cleveland.”

The new date may prove beneficial for the last walk. Instead of coming when people are recovering from summer, Pride events, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and the like, it will happen when Clevelanders have shaken off the last vestiges of their winter-induced cabin fever.

“It is at a time when people are motivated to get outside, and rejuvenated as our long, long, long Cleveland winter is finally over, and we don’t wind up coming behind the zillion other walks that are taking place all summer long,” Rembrandt noted.

In addition to the AIDS Taskforce, the Dr. John T. Carey Memorial AIDS Walk also benefits the Free Clinic, Cleveland LGBT Center, the AGAPE Program, Akron’s Community AIDS Network, Planned Parenthood, St. Paul's Community Outreach, the Ohio AIDS coalition, Camp Sunrise, and the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care.

The AIDS Walk is the second fundraiser that the Taskforce has stopped organizing. After years of diminishing returns and massive work-hours put into planning Dancin’ in the Streets, the Taskforce discontinued it after the 2004 installment, its 20th anniversary.

The following year, however, a group of community volunteers including David Peifer of Club Cleveland and Twist owner John Katsaros stepped up and revivified the July event, bringing it back to its roots as a street dance party.

For more information, to volunteer or to register for the AIDS walk, go to http://aidswalk.kintera.org.

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