“I think one of the things I’ve always appreciated about walking is that it’s often the way people feel most comfortable expressing their own experiences with HIV,” Abby Fenton says of Walk to End HIV.
“When I send fundraising calls to my friends and colleagues and business associates, I can not tell you how amazing it is to hear the stories that people offer in response to it, detailing their own personal connection to HIV and the epidemic. , “adds Fenton, CEO and Head of External Affairs of the Whitman-Walker Foundation.
“I have had friends I did not know had any contact with HIV who share really intense, passionate, beautiful, sad stories. It’s something that has always struck me about the trip: it’s a way people can feel they can personally do something to find a cure or support the work of ending HIV. ”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual fundraiser raising money for Whitman-Walker’s HIV prevention, testing and treatment services will be held virtually for the second year in a row. Registration for the event, where racers are encouraged to walk or run various 5-kilometer routes, is free to encourage greater participation.
“What we’re asking people to do is go online to WalktoEndHIV.org and register, start a team, or join a team,” said Dave Mallory, Whitman-Walker’s senior director of annual community health gifts. center for the last 17 years. “If people travel or donate $ 35, they get a commemorative T-shirt that recognizes the 35th anniversary of the walk. “We encourage people to reach out to their networks, friends, families and colleagues just to raise as much money as possible to help us reach our $ 150,000 goal.”
Attendees can pick up T-shirts at the Whitman-Walker LIZ Building, the site of the former Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center, at 14th and R Streets, NW, on October 15th and 16th. In preparation for October 23, the day of virtual running, Whitman-Walker has mapped out two different possible routes for people to run or walk.
The first route will cross the area around Logan Circle and 14th Street, where the health center’s Northwest DC properties are located, while the second route will run from the Max Robinson Center in Anacostia to the campus in St. Louis. Elizabeths, where Whitman-Walker Health opens a new health center in 2023.
“We want staff available at our LIZ location and Max Robinson to cheer people on [and] let them pick up T-shirts if they could not before, ”says Mallory. “So we try to add an element of personal fun and the sense of community that Walk has always been known for.”
Naseema Shafi, CEO of Whitman-Walker Health, notes that despite the 35th anniversary of the walk – which also coincides with the recent 40th anniversary of the first documentation of AIDS-related diseases – the organizers downplay some of the fanfare , which would normally be associated with such a major milestone.
“There is so much more we could do to mark this moment, but it is difficult to do it in this virtual space. So we want to do the best we can to promote the event, but look forward to the opportunity to celebrate more with the community when we can resume personal events, ”she says. “I hope we can be together in person next fall.”
Despite the pandemic, Shafi says the need for financial support from the community has not ebbed out, so the goal is to raise $ 150,000 from this year’s virtual hike and run. Fenton notes that despite the strains that some companies have experienced due to pandemic-related shutdowns, the company’s support for the trip has not disappeared.
“In the conversations I’ve had with our corporate sponsors, they’ve set aside money for us in their budget because they know how important the trip is and how important Whitman-Walker is to society,” she says. “And I think they are also excited to find ways to engage their staff again. We tend to forget how important that piece of it is, but so many of our sponsors have formed different teams and got their employees involved in the past.
“I think it’s something that employers use, so say, ‘Hey, you can be socially distant outside and interact with your colleagues.’ In fact, we had a team from Knowland, an Arlington-based web-based software company developing products and services for the hospitality industry, who knew they could not join us on October 23 and held a trip to Arlington on a Friday afternoon. to help raise money for us, ”notes Fenton.
“We certainly recognize that the pandemic has affected people and local businesses and restaurants and entire industries,” Mallory adds. “But we have been lucky and pleasantly surprised by the response from our major corporate sponsors. We’ve even picked up some new sponsors, which is inspiring, especially in the midst of a pandemic. This may be due in part to the coincidental anniversaries, the 35th anniversary of the walk and the 40th anniversary of the identification of HIV as a public threat.
“But I also think that the fact that we were at the forefront of the COVID pandemic, doing tests, delivering vaccines and things like that, showed how important we are to the public health of society, and maybe that’s why we sees really strong support from the business community. ”
Mallory, who became involved in the Walk to End HIV (at the time AIDS Walk) prior to working for Whitman-Walker, notes that the event has evolved over the years as recent medical developments have changed the scale of the epidemic and shifted the approach as medical providers welcomes the fight against HIV.
“It’s hard for many people to remember that AIDS Walk at the time was one of the very first 5Ks developed to combat a public health threat,” he says. “The hike has changed over the decades because the nature of the epidemic has changed. The first years were more a combination of fundraising and political protest, to increase the visibility of the problem and fight the indifference of the government.
“As we have made progress in prevention and health education in society, people are living longer, healthier lives, so the hike has changed a bit. But the trip has always been about the community coming together [and] commits to the fight against HIV.
“It’s always exciting for us at Whitman-Walker to see the support we have in the community, to see our patients, those we served while working side by side, coming together year after year. That is the true legacy of the trip. ”
Shafi says that while medical providers today have many more tools available to prevent or treat HIV, there are still massive inequalities in the way people access health care, which can affect medical outcomes.
“We still have diagnoses that occur in color communities, emphasizing the need for more education and outreach as well as addressing social factors that determine health,” she says. In fact, we recently looked at some of our data and found that transportation was a major barrier for our patients who came to care, which makes complete sense in a pandemic when people do not use transportation the way they were before.
“But now that we have telehealth, it gives us an opportunity to think about how we spend as much as we can electronically and do as much of this care as we can practically. And we have actually had opportunities to get patients in the community associated with cell phones with data plans. So we have been able to address the technological barriers that people face, but it requires extra resources, ”she notes.
Shafi is particularly excited about the prospect of the new, larger health center at St. Elizabeth’s campus in Southeast DC, which will allow Whitman-Walker to triple its patient load while providing easier access to some of the health center’s most vulnerable patient populations, especially those east of the Anacostia River.
“St. Elizabeth’s campus is a huge opportunity for us. If you pull up a city map and look at the distribution of HIV in the city, sections 7 and 8 are disproportionately affected, ”she says. “The Max Robinson Center website is great, but it’s small. This site is going to be closer to the subway, which is going to be great. And there’s going to be a lot of other health-related developments on campus with what’s happening with GW [George Washington University] hospital and the partnership GW has to staff the hospital.
“In terms of capacity alone, when we look at what happened in the Northwest when we opened our 1525 site and moved services from the old Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center, we saw a huge increase in patients,” Shafi adds. “So a new facility, new staff and more staff will make a big difference in people’s ability to access care. I can not wait to have this conversation with you in 2024 to be able to show how much we have been able to deliver. ”
Walk and 5K to End HIV will be held practically from kl. 9 for dinner on Saturday, October 23rd. The proceeds will benefit Whitman-Walker Health’s HIV-related prevention, testing and treatment services. For more information or registration, visit www.walkoendhiv.org.
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