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Wednesday, September 23,2009

Walk the walk

This weekend’s AIDS Walk has a champion fundraiser to beat

by Neal McNamara
If you’re planning to head to Valley Court Park in East Lansing on Sunday for the local AIDS Walk, bring your best walking shoes, your fundraising A-game, and keep an eye out for Chuck’s Family and Friends.

For the past four years, Chuck (for anonymity’s sake, he did not want his full name used) and his vast network of family, friends and doctors, nurses and specialists who have helped him through battles against HIV and cancer, has been the powerhouse of the Lansing/East Lansing AIDS Walk, raising around $2,000 each year.


If this were the National Hockey League, Chuck and Co. would be about the equivalent of the Detroit Red Wings.


In 2005 “we decided we were going to go all out,” Chuck says. “It’s become an annual tradition.”


Chuck moved to the Lansing area in 2002 and attended his first Lansing AIDS Walk in September of that year. His teams in 2002 and 2003 did OK, but in 2004 the team won a fundraising award. After that, he decided to start doing “a little arm twisting” by asking everyone he could think of to donate.


The Lansing/East Lansing AIDS walk, one of six walks held around the state, began about 15 years ago, with proceeds going to benefit the Lansing Area AIDS Network, which provides HIV testing and care to local residents. The AIDS Walk is a 5-kilometer march and begins Sunday at 1 p.m. behind the People’s Church in East Lansing, with registration beginning at 10 a.m.


Since Chuck began his “arm twisting,” he has amassed an impressive list of contributors. This year, he counts as supporters the choir and youth group at his Plymouth Congregational Church, his sister who works at a hospital in Jackson and a group of her coworkers, a sister and brother-in-law from the Detroit area and their children, a niece and her family from the Lansing area, and a brother and his family who live in Milwaukee.


Not to mention, Chuck gets donations from medical professionals who have helped him in the Lansing area and from Chicago, where he used to live. Chuck moved to the Lansing area to be closer to his family.


“We should have at least 30 or possi bly more on the team by the time (Sunday) arrives,” he said.


Jake Distel, executive director of the Lansing Area AIDS Network, said that funding was down last year for the AIDS Walk —Distel said between $13,500 and $14,000 was raised — but this year the goal is to raise around $18,000. Distel expects somewhere around 400 to show up for the walk, even though more contribute without walking. Distel said so far 30 teams have registered, but he hopes that five more will sign up by Sunday. Although Chuck has proven his fundraising prowess, the walk is about more than that. He was diagnosed with HIV in 1999 and last year battled cancer. He likes the community spirit of the walk and helping out a local cause. Without the expertise of local doctors, he said, he might not be around today.


And like in every good competition, there’s a rivalry. In the Lansing AIDS walk, Chuck’s main rival is Distel.


“It’s a fun rivalry,” he said. “Every (year) I like to walk in an hand him my envelope.”



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