If you live in Kansas City, you’re familiar with the work of AIDS Walk. But Lawrence, Kan., is among the many neighboring cities that have their own AIDS service organizations and their own AIDS Walk fundraisers.
In Lawrence, the Douglas County AIDS Project serves those in the HIV/AIDS community. From the free HIV-testing walk-in clinic at 2518 Ridge Court, Suite 101, to the Sept. 29 AIDS Walk, DCAP is a resource for those in Lawrence, Douglas County, and the surrounding Jefferson and Franklin Counties.
The organization was established in October 1989. Only a few months later, they began their first AIDS Walk in 1990. It was founded by volunteers, and today it relies on the work of more than 60 volunteers.
Executive director Elena Ivanov said, “I would like to see that Lawrence, Kan., will become a place where new HIV infections are rare, and when they occur, every person, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or socio-economic circumstances, will have access to high quality care, free of stigma and discrimination.”
DCAP’s mission has always been to raise money to fight HIV/AIDS and offer preventive education. The organization serves an area with four universities, so reaching out to young people is also an important part of their mission.
The agency stated: “Today young adults know little about the HIV pandemic. In fact, the percentage of people who have identified HIV/AIDS as the nation’s biggest health problem dropped from 44 percent in 1995 to as little as 6 percent in 2009. This indicated a staggering need for increased HIV education … to youth.”
William Welch is a new volunteer member of the DCAP board. He joined the board after helping the organization with Frolic, a music and dance event with art donated by area artists. Frolic raised $924, Welch said.
“Everybody I know donated art, and then also everybody I know showed up and bought that same art. It was pretty cool. It was definitely a good learning experience for me. It was a good stepping stone for what I’m personally getting ready to do with DCAP at this point,” he said.
Welch was invited to join the board after Frolic was finished, but he set the idea aside.
“Then when Elena asked me a few months later, I was, ‘Oh wow, they’re probably serious about this,’” he said. “So I went through an interview process, and they accepted me.”
“We’re shooting for awareness, most definitely,” Welch said. “I had a guy that I work with, and I said that DCAP wants me on board, and he very seriously looked at me and asked me, ‘People still get AIDS?’ And I looked at him and said, ‘You’re joking right now, right? I can’t believe you just asked me.’ But as a 42-year-old man, I was coming out and becoming sexually active when AIDS first came on the scene, so I’ve kind of grown up with it. It’s always been a part of my reality, sexual and otherwise. I understand that people aren’t dying as much, so part of my job is to make sure people don’t forget.”
Welch moved to Lawrence two years ago, and he works as a waiter for Mirth Café downtown. He’s openly gay and grew up in Detroit. He graduated from the Specs Howard School of Media Arts in Southfield, Mich., in broadcasting in 2009.
“I’m actually very, very single and looking, so you can throw that in there as well if you want to,” he said, laughing. “I’ve taken the last six years to focus on schooling and my sobriety. Just getting fit.”
Welch said he’s been openly gay since he was 14 years old. “It feels good. It’s one of the few areas of my life that I’ve never struggled with all that much,” he said. “I’m here for DCAP, and DCAP’s here for me. I just think it’s a great positive connection and energy.”
How to help Douglas County AIDS Walk
Each walker in the Sept. 29 event solicits donations for DCAP from friends, family and co-workers Those who meet a minimum donation will receive a brunch at Maceli’s. Teams and individual walkers compete to raise the most money in their categories.
Prizes are donated by community businesses for individuals and teams who raise the most. Past winners have included church groups, KU classmates, and teams of caring community members.
Board member William Welch said the group is aiming to raise about $10,000 in this year’s walk, but is optimistic about raising more through corporate sponsors.