AIDS Walk Tampa Bay 2014

By : Zach Caruso
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St. Petersburg – Vinoy Park was once again the site of AIDS Walk Tampa Bay last Saturday Sept 6, marking the AIDS Service Association of Pinellas’ largest fundraiser’s 11th year. And this year was record-breaking, with more than $220,000 raised.

Walkers, volunteers, and participants were not only treated to live entertainment, thanks to sponsors like 93.3 FLZ, but were also part of the event’s most successful year to date.

The benchmark prior to this year was 2012’s walk, which not only raised more than $120,000 in cash, but received airtime donations from Bright House Networks and 93.3 FLZ, bringing the actual total closer to $200,000 that year.

This year, the goal was to surpass those totals, and early numbers suggest that 2014 was a success. Hut no one was quite prepared for how monumental this year was to be—1,437 people walked in the event with 119 teams registered. Of those teams, GTE Financial was the top team in fundraising with $18,173 in donations, and Joseph Brancucci was the individual who raised the most with $10,177. When all was said and done, this year the event raised a grand total of $222,790.80.

Jay Aller, the Resource Development Manager for AIDS Services Association of Pinellas (ASAP), learned of the total just as the last of the walkers departed Vinoy Park to tackle the 2.5 mile track. Looking down at his phone and reading the numbers via email, his words catch in his throat and his eyes well up with tears of pride and happiness.
Smiling through the tears, and eyes still fixed on the email, Aller manages to put some of his emotions into words.

“I’ve been working with this event for all 11 years, and seeing that number, and seeing all the people that came out and made this happen, it really makes me appreciate the Tampa Bay community and all they’ve done,” he said.

“AIDS isn’t on the cover of newspapers anymore, but it’s still on the forefront of a lot of people’s minds, and this event is a real demonstration of that,” Aller said.
What makes this success even more amazing is that for the first time in the history of AIDS Walk Tampa Bay, corporate sponsors stepped in to pay for the event’s every expense, thereby allowing 100 percent of all donations to go directly to ASAP and their services.

“You cannot imagine the burden it lifts off of us,” said ASAP Executive Director William Harper. “It takes a lot of money to put on an event like this, so to have that taken care of and have all the money go directly toward services, it’s like the sun shining on you from the sky, it’s just amazing.”
Aller agrees.

“We couldn’t have gotten this amount of people out here without sponsors like the newspapers and the radio stations, the media has really helped to hype this more than ever before,” he said. “Then we had the corporate dollars to pay for the event, for renting the park, for the t-shirts, it took a lot of pressure off of us as a committee, knowing that part was taken care of. And being able to tell all the walkers that 100 percent of their dollars will go directly to ASAP for the services we provide, it really makes us grateful for what we get to do for the community.”

Harper explains that the support from the corporate sponsors developed very organically in the community.

“They started coming our way, and it was really by way of relationship building in the community—this person has a relationship with CVS Caremark, another with Raymond James, another with Walgreens. The corporations realized that we’re doing good work here for the community, and they just turned it on and went for it,” he explained “I know everyone says ‘You just want to make more money.’ Well yes, we do want to make more money because we have a lot of services we need to provide, and there are people we still haven’t reached.

“The more people that come and get involved, the more the message travels, the more people will get tested and the stigma will decrease.”

And the impact of the sponsors wasn’t lost on the participants, as one walker, Paula Tripp with Humana’s walking team, explained.

“We’re really excited to be part of this in their most successful year,” she said. “And it’s really exciting to hear that all donations are going directly to ASAP and that the sponsors stepped up and took care of all the expenses, I think that’s a great gesture and really helps take the event to another level.”

Before the first walker completes the course, Aller and Harper are already abuzz with plans for next year’s event.

“We’ve already started on next year,” said Aller with a laugh. “It’s a never-ending process, it definitely makes next year a bigger goal, we have to out-do this now. Hopefully we’ll grow and have to use all of Vinoy Park, double the size of the vendor tents.

“Three years ago when I made the decision to move the event here to Vinoy Park, the city kind of said ‘Are you sure?’” he continued. “And I said, ‘It’s going to start small, sure, but we’re going to grow, it’s going to expand.’”

Harper sees the growth and is happy to see the Tampa Bay community’s support for the cause.

“When you permeate the community and let people know that you’re there for them, then the community in turn picks up the message and starts taking it out to their churches, their clubs, the bars and hangouts, and people then start to feel more comfortable, they’re more apt to go get tested because they feel like they have a connection,” he said.

“We are so thankful to the community for all the work that they’re doing, and it’s so beautiful to see the community get involved at the ground level.”

Photos by Paul Kinchen of and Rick Claggett.

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