The 27th Annual AIDS Walk & 5K Run: Stories of Love, Support, Commitment

Michael Fitta Photo by: AIDS Action
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Hudson Resident Urges Others To Get Involved In Fight Against AIDS

[All Stories Courtesy AIDS Action Committee]

Anna Tary, 50, has been raising money for AIDS Walk Boston and 5K Run for 22 years and volunteering at the Walk for 17. Unlike so many others who’ve been involved with the Walk for decades, Tary doesn’t have a personal connection with AIDS.

“I just watched this story unfold from day one and I felt badly for the people involved,” she says. “After a certain point, it was when Freddie Mercury died, I said, ‘That’s it. I’ve got to do something.’”

S0 she started raising money for the Walk. At the time, she was one of a handful of women working a blue-collar factory job. “Those guys gave me so much crap for hanging out with gays,” she says. Some of her friends and family were a little leery of her involvement as well. As was typical of the mid-1980s, there was widespread fear and misunderstanding about how HIV was transmitted and Tary’s friends told her that they “wouldn’t come near” her if she attended the AIDS Walk.

But she did it anyway. “I would cry in the early years,” she recalls. “I was absolutely horrified. So many people were sick and dying and there was nothing you could do.”

The first AIDS Walks were almost like theatrical political marches. Tary enthusiastically went along with the tone and devised an elaborate Carmen Miranda hat with plastic fruit and a straw hat. Eventually she added a banana-shaped bubble blower to the get up. She’s long since abandoned the hat but continues to amuse Walker each year with the bubble blower, which she rigs up to a holster around her neck. “I like to work it and make people laugh,” she says.

She aims for $1,000 in funds raised each year and usually hits between $500 and $800. Tary admits that it’s getting harder and harder to raise money. Today, Tary says, she is actually angrier about the lack of attention paid to AIDS than what it was like in the 1980s. “We are so close to beating this disease,” she says. “But not if people stop paying attention.”

Her advice to Walkers new and old seeking to raise money? “You need to get the word out and keep the word out. Talk about what you’re doing and why,” she says. “And remind people that they need to have compassion even if AIDS doesn’t affect them. Support the cause anyway. Even if something hasn’t hit you personally doesn’t mean you can’t support it.”

 

Michael Fitta Photo by: AIDS Action

Lowell Resident Revives Memory of Forgotten Cousin By Participating in AIDS Walk Boston

Michael Fitta raises money for the AIDS Walk Boston and 5K Run because, as he puts it, “As far as AIDS goes, it could have been me.”

Fitta, 49, came out as a young man in Fall River when the first reports of AIDS in cities like Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco were trickling in. “We just thought there would be a cure before it ever filtered to Fall River,” Fitta recalls.

Of course, today we’re still waiting for a cure and 30 years later, the need for services, outreach, and prevention remains as great as ever.

“We’ve come a long way in terms of how people can live with HIV and it’s a wonderful thing,” says Fitta. “But it ain’t over yet and until there’s a cure, we continue to participate in the Walk and it’s a wonderful way to make a difference.”

Participating in the Walk is also an intensely personal activity for Fitta, who raises money and walks in memory of his older cousin Jack. As a young man just coming out, Fitta was enamored of Jack, who lived in San Francisco. “I didn’t see him that often, but when I did see him at family gatherings, we just clicked,” Fitta recalls.

Jack died of pneumonia in 1985 when he was just 40 years old. Few people in Fitta’s close-knit and conservative Portuguese-Catholic family spoke of Jack after he died. Fitta long suspected that Jack died of AIDS but did not get confirmation of that until many years later when the AIDS Quilt came to Boston. “I got there too late to see the Quilt, but I grabbed a program booklet and I remember standing outside on the sidewalk flipping through it and lo and behold I saw that Jack had two panels in the AIDS Quilt,” Fitta recalls. “That was the first confirmation for me that Jack had indeed died of AIDS and I just stood there and cried my eyes out.”

Fitta Cousin, Jack. Photo by AIDS Action

Today, Fitta maintains a photo album on his Facebook page called “I Walk For Jack” with photos of his cousin. He also includes stories about his cousin on the page. Over the years, as he has talked more and more about why he does the Walk, family members share their photos and remembrances of Jack for Fitta’s Facebook page.

“Some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins have approached me and thanked me for walking in his memory and for remembering him for who he was,” Fitta says. “That’s really, really meaningful to me that this Walk allows me to give Jack a voice and to take the silence and stigma away from the fact that this man died of AIDS at a time when we understood so little about it.”

By using his Facebook page and by emailing friends, Fitta has raised at least $1,000 for the AIDS Walk for six years now. “My Facebook friends know that two months prior to the Walk I’m going to be putting out requests for pledges and letting everyone know how much I’ve raised and how much more I want to raise,” Fitta says. “I also put up new photos of Jack each year and tell his story. Every year he gets to be remembered more and more and the silence and the stigma gets lessened.”

 

 

Salem Resident Spins His Way To Raising $9,000 for AIDS Walk Boston and 5K Run

Joe Deegan Photo by AIDS Action

Joe Deegan knows how to raise money—and lots of it. Over the last three years, the Salem resident has raised more than $9,000 for AIDS Walk Boston and 5K Run. But he sees himself as less of a fundraiser than a crusader. And that passion is key to his success.

“People don’t come right out and say this to me, but more and more I get the sense that they’re thinking, ‘Is AIDS even still around?,’” Deegan says. “So it’s up to us to educate people and say, ‘Yes, it is!’”

Managing HIV takes much more than popping a pill once a day, Deegan says. You need access to great medical care, health insurance, and prescription drug coverage. You also need a stable home life and friends and family who will support your efforts to stay healthy. “Learning you have HIV changes your life. It puts uncertainty in your life,” says Deegan, who has also put in many hours as a volunteer working with people who have recently learned that they are HIV positive. “Young people need to be educated about this and we need to remove their false sense of security that I think most kids have now that they’re somehow immune to HIV infection.”

Deegan, an IT worker at a Cambridge nonprofit, is personally motivated to help end the spread of HIV. Forty-eight years old, he came of age during the early years of the AIDS epidemic. He lost an uncle to the disease as well as several of his friends, two of whom killed themselves shortly after learning that they were HIV positive. “They just thought the worst of it was going to happen and didn’t want to go through it all and ended it right then and there and that was just so tragic,” he says.

His passion fuels his fundraising efforts. Like many AIDS Walk Boston and 5K Run participants, Deegan makes great use of his Facebook page to raise money. But he buttresses his efforts with regular emails to his friends and family members. He keeps a list of those who’ve donated in the past and sends them targeted messages thanking them for their past donations and asking if they’ll consider pledging to AIDS Walk Boston and 5K Run again.

But Deegan’s greatest piece of advice for novice fundraisers is to “think outside of the box.” Deegan, a part-time spin instructor, has leveraged his love of spin to raise money by holding spin-a-thons at the clubs he works at. He also solicits donations from area businesses to give out as raffles prizes to spin-a-thon participants. This year, one of his spin-a-thon prizes will be a flat screen television. People like to give, he notes, you just have to ask.

But the bottom line, he stresses, is that the primary job of AIDS Walk Boston and 5K participants is to educate people about HIV and AIDS. “We need to get the word out that it isn’t over and it’s not even close to being over.”

The 27th annual AIDS Walk & 5K Run draws 10,000 to 15,000 participants and is AIDS Action’s largest annual fundraiser. WCVB-TV StormTeam 5 meteorologist David Brown will emcee the event, which also includes a Wellness Festival and the Larry Kessler 5K run. The 5K run is a competitive, timed event, and is fully sanctioned by the USA Track & Field Association. The 6.2-mile AIDS Walk and the Larry Kessler 5K run will begin and end at the DCR Hatch Memorial Shell on the Charles River Esplanade in Boston. Registration and check-in begins at 7:30 a.m. The Walk begins at 10 a.m.; the Larry Kessler run begins at 9:50 a.m. Participants can register for the AIDS Walk and 5K run at www.aidswalkboston.org. There is neither a registration fee nor a minimum funds raised requirement in order to participate.

Visit the AIDS Walk Boston & 5K Run website for more information.