7 min

People in our neighbourhood

A few of the faces behind AIDS Walk 2004

Credit: Capital Xtra files

For more than two decades, Ottawa’s gay community has demonstrated its sense of pride, strength and commitment as it has supported and comforted those affected by HIV/AIDS.

An important piece of that support network is AIDS Walk Ottawa, now in its 14th year. And while the reasons so many walk may be as diverse as the community, one thing remains the same: the commitment to support those already infected, support for prevention efforts and the hope of one day finding a cure.

Here are just a few of the hundreds of faces you will see at AIDS Walk Ottawa on Sat, Sep 18.



When Dylan Monorchio decided to begin volunteering at Bruce House as a way to enhance his admittedly thin resume, he had no idea how rich and rewarding the experience would be.

But one year later, Monorchio, 20, has become an enthusiastic and valued volunteer, who will take part in his first AIDS Walk later this month.

“I initially chose Bruce House because my mom was a Bruce House volunteer,” he says. “I was supposed to be a regular in-house volunteer but then I started working and my schedule was kind of sporadic, so I became a special events volunteer.”

In addition to his work with Bruce House, Monorchio also donates his time to the Ottawa University Heart and Stroke Institute.

“Anyone can contract HIV at any time, and by volunteering, you’re constructively investing time and effort into something that could potentially be of a lot of help to you or people you love later,” he says of his work with Bruce House.

And while he hopes to return to school sometime in the near future, Monorchio says he is thankful for the opportunity to make a difference as a volunteer.

“Admittedly, I’m still no expert on the AIDS crisis and its statistics and figures,” he says. “[But] if nothing else of value, I learned that I’m not invulnerable.”



Shala Smith will once again put her best foot forward during AIDS Walk 2004.

Over the past several years, the veteran AIDS Walk participant has raised hundreds of dollars in funds for the Ottawa-area HIV/AIDS service agencies that benefit from the walk.

“I just wanted to participate in something in the community and I know that the AIDS Walk is an important fundraiser, so I thought it would be a good event to become involved in,” Smith says.

For each of the five years she has participated in the walk, Smith says the majority of the money she has raised has been donated by her co-workers.

“A lot of them the first couple of years I did it, they were like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know they did this,'” she explains. “But, now as the fall comes around, they kind of expect me to come around asking for sponsors.”

But, Smith adds, in addition to raising money, the walk also helps to raise something equally important in the fight against the disease: awareness.

“At work, in the straight community, it’s not an issue that’s in their head,” she says. “But this isn’t just something that affects the gay and lesbian community, but the world as a whole – it touches everyone.”



AIDS Walk Ottawa volunteer Cathy Sansom is proof that when you stay young at heart, you can make a difference in the lives of others.

The 64-year-old veteran Bruce House volunteer will be taking part in her sixth local AIDS Walk this month.

In addition to walking, Sansom – who is also active with SAGE and other programs at Pink Triangle Services – will serve as the “volunteer Volunteer Coordinator” at the walk, a new position created by AIDS Walk coordinators.

“Often, those that are there for the first time aren’t quite sure what to do. So when they don’t know where they are going – that’s when they have to come to me and grandma here will tell them,” she says with a laugh. “The day of the walk, I’ll just be there to make sure that everybody goes in the right direction.”

Sansom adds, however, that whether you are a veteran volunteer or a new walker, anything can make a difference in the life of someone affected by HIV/AIDS.

“I really don’t think that unless you are totally involved with this, or you have family and friends involved in this, you realize how much your money and your time is needed for this particular disease,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if you can give 10 minutes or 10 weeks, everything is appreciated.”



For the past several years, Bill Renaud, of Team Renaud Otten real estate, has been organizing and hosting the annual Ruby Ribbon Circle Charity Event to benefit AIDS Walk Ottawa.

According to Renaud, an associate broker with Re/Max, the Ruby Ribbon Circle is a growing network of small business owners who have made significant donations toward underwriting the walk.

“Part of the concern was that a percentage of the money the walkers generated was going toward off-setting the cost of funding the walk,” Renaud explains. “And I just hate that, you know, if you’re giving money to charity you want it all to go to charity.”

Last year, the network was able to raise $26,000 in donations, covering the entire cost of the walk.

“The fundraiser at my house is sort of just a thank you for those donations,” he says.

This year, Renaud adds, he hopes to raise more than $30,000 in donations, which would be the first time the group has raised more money than is needed to underwrite the walk’s costs.

“And what that means is that the people who actually walk in the walk, 100 percent of the money they raise goes to the charities they choose – and that’s a win-win situation,” he says.



Last year was the first time Carleton University’s GLBT Centre formally participated in Ottawa’s AIDS Walk, with more than a half-dozen students taking part.

This year, Darryl Lim – a centre coordinator spearheading the student group’s participation – is hoping to attract several more walkers to help reach the centre’s fundraising goal.

“My target is to raise $500, but I do want to raise as much money as I can,” Lim says.

In addition to doing its part to help fund prevention efforts, Lim says the centre’s formal participation in the walk is also a way of “showing solidarity with those who are already living with HIV/AIDS.”

And, Lim adds, AIDS Walk Ottawa not only provides the centre with an opportunity to raise funding for its designated charity, Bruce House, but also affords the students a chance to raise awareness – both on-campus and in the community – that this is not just a queer issue, but is of importance to everyone.

“A lot of people associate HIV/AIDS with the GLBT community, and that is one of the things we are trying to dissolve,” he says. “We are trying to change those perceptions.”



This will be the second time Mishelle Pack has participated in Ottawa’s AIDS Walk.

Pack, 27, will walk as a member of Team Trivium, a group of employees from Trivium, the gothic clothing store located in the Rideau Centre.

“Last year was my first walk in Ottawa, although before that I had walked in Regina, and it was awesome,” she says. “It was such an amazing turnout. It’s something I’ll do every year that I’m here.”

Pack says that one of the things that impressed her the most last year was the “complete diversity” of the event.

“And it’s not just diversity of people, but it is also a diversity of feelings and emotions and vibes,” she explains. “[Because] on one level it’s fun, you know, you’re with your friends and you’re walking, but on another level there’s this dark undertone of why we have to do it.”

Pack added that after participating in last year’s walk in Ottawa, she has begun to investigate other volunteering opportunities.

“After doing something like this, it has made me look into volunteering on a regular basis,” she says. “It’s almost contagious.”



It wasn’t that long ago that Julie Coultas was living and working in Toronto.

But Coultas, this year’s AIDS Walk coordinator for Bruce House, became disillusioned with the corporate world and decided she needed to make a change.

“I worked in Toronto for a big corporation and I hated the person who I was because I felt like I wasn’t doing anything that was worthwhile,” Coultas says.

Holding a “very strong” interest in political, feminist and lesbian-related issues, Coultas, 26, started to look for a way to meld her inherent activism with a meaningful professional life.

Then, last summer, she served as an AIDS Walk Ottawa’s administrative clerk while working as a Human Resources Development Canada student at Bruce House.

“I just loved it,” Coultas says of the experience. “I feel that HIV/AIDS, particularly now, is a very important issue – both in Canada and globally.”

Coultas now splits her time between coordinating the walk and working as a fundraising and development assistant at the HIV/AIDS service agency.

She hasn’t looked back since.

“I just feel good everyday when I get up in the morning, that I get to come and work on the AIDS Walk,” Coultas says. “It sounds cheesy, but I really do feel privileged.”



When the AIDS Walk takes place later this month, Colleen Whiteduck will be there.

As a proud and active member of both Ottawa’s aboriginal and queer communities, Whiteduck takes her participation in the annual event very seriously.

“These fundraising events are not just about the fundraising, it’s about coming together to help each other in creating our community – whatever our race or whatever our sexuality – because the cause is there. And we need our communities,” she says.

Whiteduck, a social worker and healer at a local aboriginal health center in Ottawa, has been actively volunteering and working with those affected by HIV/AIDS since the mid-1990s, after watching so many local gay men die from the disease.

“I guess what really hit my heart was that I lost friends to AIDS, some quite close ones,” she explains.

But, Whiteduck adds, although contracting the virus is not the death sentence it once was, the walk still provides an important opportunity to reach out to those who are suffering through the pain and social stigma of the disease alone.

“I know there are a lot of people living with AIDS in isolation,” she says. “And those are the ones that I would like reach, to let them know that there is support out there for them – they just have to reach out.”