Now that it’s April and people have started emerging after the long winter, it’s also time for AIDS Walk Kansas City. Our Camp10 subjects this time are two women who have been involved in AIDS Walk for more than a decade. Sisters and allies Casey and Sloane Simmons, owners of the store STUFF (316 W. 63rd St., Kansas City, Mo.), devote their time and energy every year to this important cause.
1. You are both extremely dedicated to AIDS Walk Kansas City. How and when did you become involved?
Casey Simmons: I became involved because my sister Sloane had made such a passionate commitment to the cause. Her words motivated me to stand with her in the fight. And I, too, believed that working in our community to offer dignity and hope to people suffering with HIV/AIDS was something we simply could not ignore.
Sloane Simmons: I became involved with the Walk in 1997, the year my son was born. I was a volunteer along the route, and I also got my first taste of the Mosaic Project that year, an annual event for AIDS Walk I have been involved with ever since. Greg Hugeback founded the event, along with a Shawnee Mission East High School student. Since then, the business I own with my sister, Casey Simmons, has become a corporate sponsor for this art-based outreach program. I have never not been a member of the Walk Steering Committee since then.
2. How have you involved family and friends in this cause over the years?
CS: Of course, I think it is impossible to not encompass your close friends and family in a cause you find yourself so deeply passionate about. My daughter “walked” her first Walk at age 3 months and hasn’t missed the annual event since. She also gives community service hours to the organization. It is a family-fun-fest each year. I am surrounded by my daughter, my mother, my sister, my nephew and the list goes on.
SS: My son and husband have worked alongside me on every volunteer gig I have put my name in for on the Walk. They also supported me as I joined the AIDS Service Foundation and then served in a leadership role as time went by. Time away from my young son was hard for several of those years, but having them both at events made me very happy. My sister -- along with STUFF – has sponsored Walk teams, and she has headed up teams for the AIDS Walk Open, award-winning teams I might add. My father has sponsored both of his grandchildren for walking in AIDS Walk, and our mother has walked alongside us for many years.
3. How has AIDS Walk Kansas City changed since you became involved?
CS: Their core mission hasn’t. They have grown larger in participants, dollars raised, and the number of events they host. But they have never lost sight of their mission and goals. I am very impressed that this organization has stayed dedicated to their core values and they have found ways to keep the expenses and management contained. It is truly remarkable what they accomplish with such a small operating budget.
SS: AIDS Walk has grown since I first became involved — in numbers of walkers, in money raised and in size. However, it has not lost its heart or its way. The money stays in Kansas City and helps those living with HIV/AIDS. Every year is like a family reunion in the park for my son and me. We see people we don’t see very often, and we see people we see all the time. But on Walk Day, we are there for a single and focused purpose, and that lends an energy and emotion to the day. Our day starts early in the Mosaic tent and ends when all the walkers have left the park. These days live with me all year long, and I cherish most the ones I have been able to share with my son.
4. What is your favorite part of AIDS Walk Kansas City (you know, besides that physical activity that pushes out those endorphins!)?
CS: The emotional connection that day is inspiring. I love, love, love the tribute flags. They are majestic and powerful. They set the stage for the whole walk.
SS: Watching the walkers leave the park and watching them return. Since the initiation of the flags leading the walkers to 47th Street, I have been unable to remain dry-eyed. Such power in the silences and the noise.
5. How do you prepare for the walk?
CS: I raise money and invite people to join a team. I Facebook constantly to spread awareness and to shamelessly beg for every dime I can raise.
SS: I spend months working on the Mosaic Project and lifting hundreds of pounds of tiles and supplies. We schlep them all over town to high schools, so I am pretty much prepared physically for my part of Walk Day.
6. Why should people get involved with the AIDS Walk (I mean, other than it being a great cause!)?
CS: The Walk is one of Kansas City’s most inspiring events. It fills your heart with hope and it shines a bright light on our city’s beautiful diversity. And this event supports multiple AIDS Service Organizations and other grant programs all in one. You get to shoot a bag of arrows with one shot. It makes you feel great, because it is great!
SS: AIDS Walk Kansas City and the AIDS Service Foundation do a dynamic job of making any and everyone involved with the Walk feel like family. Heck, we’ve raised our son in its warm embrace. The money raised helps people in our city and the low expenses for all the fundraising that is accomplished all year by the volunteers that make up the ASF is a shining example of what a not-for-profit is all about. Low expenses mean more money for programs and people.
7. What event would you like to see added to the AIDS Walk Kansas City week events?
CS: A kids’ fun run before the walk. I would like the organization to find more ways to include families with children.
SS: I would love to see an avenue for artists to be more involved with the Walk, beyond those who participate in the Mosaic Project. I know by having this idea I should be a catalyst for making it happen, but it will occur sometime. Until now, it just hasn’t happened because so many things already happen in the weeks leading up to the Walk.
8. As sisters, you are in business together and you are also involved in AIDS Walk Kansas City together. Are there other hobbies or interests that you share?
SS: I can say that the love of our small business is a project we share. STUFF makes us proud and supports many, many local artists. In addition, I take great pleasure in doing small-business consulting with my sister and helping others fulfill their dreams of self-employment and entrepreneurship. Hobbies? We both read for pleasure and, in the past when there has been time, we needlepoint. We travel with our children, but seldom together because the strain of both of us gone is too hard on our business. However, the times we have carved away for our children to travel together and with us have been magical.
CS: We both love art, travel, fabulous food, laughter and our life project called STUFF. I know it sounds weird, but we really, really love our business. I agree with her notes about this too. But this is my way of getting to the point faster :)
9. I love the statement on your website to “pursue good stuff, art, food, fun, health, people, and places.” How did you decide to make this your mantra?
SS: Pursuing good stuff is a way to live your life, and I live mine that way every day. I can’t say there was a “dead on” decision to make it a mantra, but we were doing so organically in most decisions we were making for our store. The rest is a little bit of history for us.
CS: “Pursue good stuff” is our trademark. It is our lifestyle. It is our litmus test for every business decision we make. And it helps guide us in our charitable work. It is a great way to quickly put things in balance. Sloane is right — it came about organically and honestly. It grew from within us both.
10. What one item in your store would you gift to your sister and why?
CS: A Lori Buntin pool painting — a big one. Because she loves art, paintings, Lori’s work, and she often reminds me that “stress can’t float.”
SS: I would give my sister a one-of-a-kind piece of handmade jewelry. Wisely, I would let her pick it herself.

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