3 min

Supporters lace up for AIDS Walk

Bruce House director says success shouldn't be measured in dollars

Bruce House executive director Jay Koornstra (centre) says he doesn't measure the success of the walk in dollars but in how many participants take part.
Since its inception in 1989, the AIDS Walk for Life Ottawa has raised more than $1 million for local health agencies. Total fundraised dollars have been down in recent years, inspiring some concerned citizens to implement creative philanthropic tactics in advance of Saturday, Sept 15. 

Amanda Earl, the managing editor of Ottawa literary magazine Bywords, has been walking in the event for close to a decade. To attract donations to the Bywords fundraising team, Earl is offering a selection of her own chapbooks to anyone who donates between $25 and $99. If a donor gives more than $100, Earl promises to write the beneficent a personalized erotica chapbook.

“I want to show that the literary community cares,” Earl says. “We’re part of the community. We publish people who may have had experiences with people who are living with HIV/AIDS or may themselves be going through the experience.”
Earl says that the stigma and homophobia surrounding HIV/AIDS is another reason she continues to fundraise each year. Earl says that if her team successfully amasses $500 in donations, she will don a white tutu for the walk.

This year’s event will include a community fair preceding the walk, from 57pm at city hall’s Marion Dewar Plaza. The fair will give participants a chance to register their team’s donations and visit informational booths set up by local organizations, including Jer’s Vision and the Ottawa Wolves.
Generous supporters are additionally invited to purchase tickets for the Ruby Ribbon Circle event. For $250, donors are invited to a cocktail reception at Toss Salon, held on Monday, Sept 24. Funds donated through the purchase of a ticket for the Ruby Ribbon Circle go toward underwriting expenses associated with producing the walk.
Bruce House has acted as the lead administering agency for the walk since 2003. Jay Koornstra, executive director of Bruce House, says Ottawa’s Walk for Life is unique when compared to other AIDS walks across Canada, as more than one agency will receive donated dollars.
In addition to Bruce House, this year’s beneficiaries include ACO, the Youth Services Bureau, PTS, Snowy Owl AIDS Foundation, Planned Parenthood Ottawa and the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health.
For the first time a member of each partner agency will be designated as an honorary chair for the walk. In the past only one or two chairs were appointed.
Koornstra says that while fundraising is important, education remains paramount when dealing with HIV/AIDS. These agencies, he says, represent a well-balanced group that together can further educate the public.
“We’re thrilled that we have partner agencies on board that may be best poised to provide education and outreach to populations that may not want to hear messages from AIDS service organizations,” he says.
Koornstra says Ottawa’s collective of HIV/AIDS organizations have been at the forefront of prevention for years. He says organizations in Ottawa have been working to ameliorate social factors that make an individual more susceptible to contracting HIV. He points to the recent International AIDS Conference, where a plan to end the disease was presented.
“Really, only one or two of them refer to the biological and medical treatment. Then we know we’re on the right track by including the other social determinates of health,” he says. “I’m pleased and proud that organizations in Ottawa were aware of these factors much earlier.”
When Koornstra came to Ottawa in 2000, he says, he was surprised by the amount of money the walk was pulling in. He says that in the 1990s, more people donated to the walk because they believed a cure for HIV/AIDS was in sight.
“There wasn’t a cure, but I think people were led to believe there was,” he says.
In 2009, $87,000 in pledge dollars was raised for the walk. Pledge dollars dipped to $61,000 in 2010.
Koornstra attributes the drop in 2010 to the controversy surrounding the Ottawa police’s treatment of an HIV-positive man. Additionally, in 2010 the Ruby Ribbon Circle event lost its main benefactor. Bruce House took over the Ruby Ribbon event, yet Koornstra admits they didn’t have the proper business connections to drive up ticket sales.
Last year saw a minor upswing, with $67,000 raised.
“The walk is an event where every dollar counts. A donation of one dollar is as significant as a donation of $100,” Koornstra says. “My measurement is not always in dollars but the number of people who register to walk. That is an indicator to me of how well the issues of HIV/AIDS are being received here in Ottawa. Ottawa’s transmission rate and prevalence rate is still unacceptably high. The walk is an event that highlights HIV/AIDS as an ongoing issue in our community.”
For more information, visit the Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life Ottawa official site.