Sept. Boston-NYC Ride Raises $$$ for Vital AIDS Programs
For the past 17 years, thousands of riders and crew members have made their way down the East Coast from Boston to New York to raise funds for the New York LGBT Community Center’s vital HIV/AIDS programs. Although this year’s event, held on September 21-23, is now under new leadership and renamed Cycle for the Cause, the mission is the same: to raise funds and awareness around HIV/AIDS.
"This is my third year doing the ride, and if you think about it, 2013 will be the 30th anniversary of the Center, and last year was the 30th anniversary of HIV/AIDS, so it is a great moment for people who want to get involved and do something to give back and end AIDS," said Center Executive Director Glennda Testone. "For those who want to get engaged physically, this is a way to put your money where your mouth is, and get on your bike."
Testone said that organizers are hoping to recruit 150 riders (last year’s event drew 133) to raise about $3,500 each for the Center. To attract younger riders, they have lowered the personal minimum to $3,000. But with the help of special teams like OUTspoken QSirius and Team Eagle -- each of who hopes to raise $100,000 -- Testone said they are shooting for a final fundraising total of $500,000 to benefit Center programs.
"Many years ago I lost a brother to AIDS, so this is a very personal issue to me," said Romaine Patterson, half of the gay and lesbian duo that hosts the Derek and Romaine Show on Sirius XM Radio. "I helped out last year, with Amber riding and me on the crew, and for some reason it really struck me, because it was very intimate, and you got to really know the riders."
Patterson said last year, she joked that if the radio station raised $50,000, she would participate in a future ride, which she said, "was ridiculous because I’m overweight, do zero exercise and the thought of me on a bike is comical." Still, she honored her commitment, and will form the small Sirius team with Derek Hartley and Amber Hall, saying, "I remember riding as a kid, but I don’t remember the seat hurting my ass this much."
"We opened it up for some of our listeners to join and the goal this year is $100,000," said Patterson. "We have raised that much over several years, but to do it in one year is amazing."
With the help of their listeners, said Hartley, this goal is one they feel they can reach. And given the tough economic climate, bestowing the Center with such a large and sudden influx of funds can be a game-changer.
"It fits with the nature of our show, which is about raising awareness and empowering people," said Hartley, who said he would ride next year if they meet their fundraising goal. "As Romaine mentioned, we’re not all in the best shapes of our lives, but we are putting ourselves out there to do this. We hope it will inspire people to participate in things they are passionate about, and even if we don’t make the goal in New York, we will feel gratified."
Team Eagle co-captains Rick Weber and Peter Schwartz are also attempting to raise $100,000 for Cycle for the Cause. Weber said that he was accustomed to doing one-day bike rides for a number of different charities before he first signed up to do his first HIV fundraiser, in February 2004 -- one month before he discovered he was HIV-positive.
"There were a lot of emotions, and we were panicking about everything, even whether we could meet our $4,500 goal for the ride," said Weber. "But I had always rode for other people, and I felt like it was time to ride for my community."
It was the death of a London friend at the age of 33 that prompted Schwartz to make the commitment to ride. He said they rode solo for a while, but when Weber was crowned Mr. Eagle in 2007, they started a team.
"Team Eagle got bigger over the years, and this year we have 16 riders," said Schwartz. "We are thinking of capping it at that number; it gets unwieldy, and we don’t want this to become the Team Eagle ride."
Weber said that the team is comprised of several other couples and individuals, and five new riders, about whose fundraising potential they are unsure. Still, he and Schwartz were confident they would reach their goal.
"Who knows; they could be coming from Wall Street, which is known to be generous to our cause," said Weber. "Each year Team Eagle has raised more and more money, and each year the economy has gotten worse and worse. I am more conservative than my teammates, and if I feel we can do it, I promise you, we will."
Funds Help With HIV Prevention, Outreach and Education
"We use the funds raised specifically around prevention," said Testone, noting that New York City remains the epicenter for HIV/AIDS in the U.S. "More than 107,000 New Yorkers live with HIV, and many don’t know they’re infected. We do a lot of outreach and prevention to young people, people of color and transgender individuals through our peer educators. We also have cultural programs that support and fuel this program."
Among the cultural offerings were the March 2012 focus on the art of Keith Haring, film screenings and the Fly Girl Hip-Hop Showdown.
Once a week, Center Youth Social Worker Jordan Wishner, MSM, facilitates support groups for HIV prevention and another for adult men recently diagnosed with HIV.
"In my personal life, I have a lot of friends who are HIV-positive, and I am always looking to support and empower them," said Wishner. His early work in how HIV affected a youth demographic lead him an increased interest in helping the above-18 demographic.
He said that at the beginning of his three-month groups, many of the men are planning their funerals, and wondering what they would do if they died tomorrow.
"Skip ahead 13 weeks, and they are laughing and smiling, asking what will they do if they find themselves in a long-term relationship and decide to have kids," said Wishner. "It is a completely different outlook, and it touched me because they scoff at the idea of brotherhood, but when you decrease your isolation, it is lifesaving."
Wishner said that lot of youth he was close to during his early work aged out, and he wanted to make sure he continued services to them as they entered a new phase of life. Former Youth Enrichment Services member and current peer outreach educator Joseph Davis has managed to do both.
When he was in high school, Davis said his grandfather told him to go to the Center, to "get out of the house and make some friends." Spurred by the support, Davis began working with YES. Five years later, he continues to help spread the word about HIV prevention.
Davis said that YES, as a sex-positive space, talks about safe sex, protection and finding the motivation to stay healthy. "We also talk a lot about the fact that HIV is a virus; it’s there," said Davis. "Talking about that is knowing that the virus can come back, that there’s not just a pill you can take to make it all better, that you have to know how to keep yourself protected and safe."
Davis said that Cycle for the Cause was an amazing way to be able to preserve this loving and caring space for people to be able to disclose that they are gay or lesbian or HIV-positive without being judged -- not just for youth, but for older adults as well.
"This ride is important because finding funding for AIDS services has become increasingly more challenging for places like the Center," said Patterson. "Derek and I had the opportunity to meet firsthand people who are impacted by the work the Center does. Their life is turned upside down, and when you help provide a safe space they can go to to find support, you can’t help but feel wonderful about your contribution."
In addition to raising funds, Cycle for the Cause fosters a sense of camaraderie.
"There is a certain energy that goes with the ride, a love fest amongst the riders and the crew that makes you feel that everything’s great, and we are one ginormous team," said Schwartz. "It’s amazing how they involve friends and family and random people along the route, who will stop and give us five dollars. It also raises awareness; people will know it’s out there and that people are doing something to end HIV/AIDS."
To that end, the Center invites all potential riders to consider signing up for the life-changing event that is Cycle for the Cause. Whether or not you have participated in a challenge of this type before or not, they will offer support to find success in fundraising and physical conditioning.
"I haven’t started training yet, but I would say if I can do it, anybody can do it," said Testone. "I am starting fresh; my tires are flat now, but I plan to pump them up and get on the bike, and start riding. That’s all it takes. I encourage anyone who is on the fence about it, because I can say for sure that this is the kind of experience that will change your life."
For more info, visit http://www.cycleforthecause.org/home or contact ride manager Michael Beck at 646-358-1733 or firstname.lastname@example.org For more info on Center HIV services, visit http://www.gaycenter.org/health/hivaids