A Community Cause

By Desi Rubio, November 2015 Issue.

On the heels of Northern Arizona’s AIDS Walk and AIDS Walk Tucson, Aunt Rita’s Foundation event coordinators and supporters are gearing up for the annual Phoenix-based AIDS Walk Arizona & 5K Run Oct. 25.

Thousands of supporters are expected to gather in downtown Phoenix to bring awareness and support to HIV and AIDS. This year’s goal is to raise $400,000.

With more than 15,000 people affected by the disease in Arizona alone, Aunt Rita’s Foundation executive director Kit Kloeckl said the need for awareness is more necessary than ever.

“I am hopeful we can hit our $400,000 goal, we have never hit that amount but I think it is seriously needed for our benefiting agencies,” Kloeckl said.

Aunt Rita’s continues to raise funds for agencies that provide services for people living with HIV/AIDS and that work to prevent the spread of the disease. AIDS Walk Arizona & 5K Run is Aunt Rita’s biggest opportunity to fundraise. All of the proceeds will be equally distributed among 17 benefiting agencies around the Valley.

Since 2005, Aunt Rita’s Foundation has raised over $1.2 million for these organizations.

According to Kloeckl these agencies have become dependent upon Aunt Rita’s to support the needs of services and programs throughout the Valley.

“Joshua Tree, for example, depends on us to keep their doors open,” Kloeckl explained. “I have personally seen HIV/AIDS people go in there for their food boxes, and the need is truly real.”

AIDS Walk Arizona & 5K Run invites individuals as well as teams to register. The benefit of participating as part of a team is that members work together to raise a larger collective amount of funds, while creating a sense of team pride.

One renowned team that has raised over $100,000 throughout the past six years is Barbra Seville’s Wonderful 100 Team, also known as #BSW100.

“Our goal this year is to raise $25,000,” Seville said. “But the bigger part of what we do is community building and helping people figure out how to make a difference.”

This year, the start and finish line will be in the heart of downtown Phoenix at CityScape.

“We decided to move the location of the starting and finishing line because we want to encourage people to hang out after the walk,” Kloeckl said. “[What] we really want is [to] create a festival atmosphere afterwards.”

The route has also changed. This year, walkers will be heading east while runners will be running west. As they move adjacent to one another, they will also be able to cheer each other on along the way.

In an effort to enhance preparation and motivation ahead of the event’s recently added run component, certified personal trainer and Aunt Rita’s committee member Nate Whitten has created a group called Rita’s Runners. This group has been meeting on a weekly basis to prepare for the 3.1 mile run. The six-week program offers participants encouragement, advice and physical education for registered runners.

According to Kloeckl, the goal is to transform this event from a “gay event [into a] family oriented event.” To help this effort, Kids for the Cause will be a new feature that allows kids, age 12 and younger, to register for $10.

“We want your kids to come too because they will become educated, so as they get older they understand and protect themselves,” Kloeckl said.

In effort to create a more family oriented event, Aunt Rita’s is also honoring Andrew Pulsipher, an HIV-positive father and husband, as well as his wife, Victoria, and their three kids – all of whom are HIV negative – as the first family chair of AIDS Walk Arizona & 5K Run. (Read "Meet the Pulsipher Family" here.)

“The Pulsipher family story is important because they highlight that HIV/AIDS isn’t just a gay disease,” Kloeckl explained.

Returning this year, PAWS for the Cause invites you to register your dog for $10 and bring them along to join in the family fun. Each dog will be presented with a bandana and bag of treats.

This year marks the second consecutive year that AIDS Walk Arizona has held three separate events across the state with one common goal: to raise awareness in Arizona.

“The more we talk about it, the more we learn about it,” Seville said. “We owe it to the universe to put out good energy and good deeds.”

Rita’s Runners

Running a 5K is a common goal for many individuals – from the competitor who conquers 5K races for recreation to the beginner who finds 3.1 miles a little daunting as they prepare for their first race.

Locally, a group of individual that identify with the second example found the help and motivation they needed to prepare for AIDS Walk Arizona's 5K Run in a group called Rita's Runners.

This group of registered participants have been preparing for the Oct. 25 race for the past six weeks under the care and expertise of certified personal fitness trainer and Aunt Rita’s committee member Nate Whitten.

After receiving the same feedback – "I want to run the 5K but don’t feel confident enough to cross the finish line" – from multiple people, Whitten decided to form a training group to fulfill this need.

"The formation of the group was a way for Aunt Rita’s to say 'thank you for participating in the fundraising,'" Whitten said. “We just want to help each person reach their goal in completing the 5K.”

Whitten is confident that, after the six-week program that included group runs as well as an online community for encouragement and tips, the runners will not only complete the race, but they will also see significant changes in their weight and their overall confidence.

According to Whitten, AIDS Walk Arizona & 5K Run is the perfect opportunity to embrace your fitness goals and gain a sense of community.

“It is important to support an event like this because there isn’t one person who isn’t affected by HIV/AIDS, it affects all people and it affects all communities,” Whitten said.

Members of Rita’s Runners are all registered runners for the AIDS Walk Arizona & 5K Run. As part of the free program they were asked to raise an additional $100 for Aunt Rita's to offset the costs of the training.

All of the funds raised will be equally distributed among 17 benefiting agencies that provide services for people or families affected by HIV/AIDS.

For more in for mention on AIDS Walk Arizona & 5K Run, including registration information and run/walk start times, visit aidswalkaz.org.

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