Corporate Champions Take Action

Thousands of people are involved in the various AIDS Walk events in Kansas City throughout the year. Whether they hold up Memorial Banners during the walk, work the “hole patrol” at the putt-putt golf tourney, or give corporate financial support, each of them has a story.

Many observers marvel at how AIDS Walk, now in its 27th year, runs like a well-oiled machine, thanks to the work done by the steering committee, volunteers, and corporate sponsors, as well as the walkers who raise money through individual donations.

Two of the people involved with corporate sponsorship and the steering committee this year are Jeff Morgan, owner and president of Morgan Miller, a 20-year-old residential and commercial plumbing business, and Belinda Manos, who has been with the company as a customer service rep/dispatcher for a little over three years.

Their involvement with AIDS Walk began through the company’s membership in the Mid America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (MAGLCC) and their friendship with its executive director Michael Lintecum, who also serves as the AIDS Walk chair.

“It’s just a natural progression from the day that we joined until today,” said Morgan.

The company is a Bronze sponsor of AIDS Walk this year. Other Morgan Miller employees have their own individual team fundraising pages for the walk. Morgan estimated that there would be six to eight walkers this year from the 18-employee company, which also participated in last year’s walk.

Manos is a member of the steering committee for the walk and has also volunteered for other events. She was on the “hole patrol” at Dave’s Stagecoach Inn in Westport for this year’s AIDS Walk Open putt-putt golf tournament, and she also works with the Mosaic ceramic tile project.

Morgan spoke about why they joined the MAGLCC three years ago.

“We do a lot of networking. It’s a mission of ours. One of the things that we found out is that it would be really cool if all the key employees got to join whatever they were really passionate about. And that’s when Belinda brought up this organization. And we said, ‘That sounds fantastic.’ I didn’t even know there was such a thing,” he said with a laugh. “Belinda got in first and really got us all involved. Quite frankly, it’s the most fun organization we belong to. They’re the nicest group of people. They sure know how to throw a party.”

Morgan credits Manos for getting their employees involved with AIDS Walk last year

“When we got there, we said, ‘What do you want us to do?’ And Michael said, ‘Oh, I don’t know, maybe you could go over to the memorial tent.’”

Manos said that Terry Newell, who was in charge of the Memorial Banners, assigned them to be among the walkers who carry large red ribbons and surround the walkers holding the Memorial Banners, who lead off the walk every year.

“We were very humbled by this,” she said.

“We cried all the way to the fountain,” said Morgan. “I have personally not been touched by the travesty of AIDS, but, boy, just being part of it just really moves you. So we moved up a level in our participation. and I expect next year will be more sponsorship and participation.”

This year, Manos said, they will once again participate in the memorial part of the ceremony.

“It’s really an honor,” said Morgan.

Manos also helped set up for AIDS Walk last year on the day before the event. “I helped set up tents last year. And I was hurting the day of the walk,” she said with a laugh.

Like so many others involved with AIDS Walk, Manos spoke of the personal connection she has had with someone living with HIV/AIDS.

“My original hairdresser told my husband and I in 1988 that he was HIV-positive. And several of his friends and people that I knew … had died. That was very, very sad. He’s had lots of medical issues, but he’s still around,” she said happily.

Last year, when she got home from AIDS Walk, she was looking at the names listed on the T-shirt and recognized the name of a former classmate’s brother. “So I reached out to her and her mother,” she said. “We’re friends on Facebook. She keeps his memory alive.”

Both Manos and Morgan have sons who are openly gay. Manos’ son Zachary owns Manifest Chocolates in Kansas City, and Morgan’s son, Andy, sings in the Heartland Men’s Chorus. Manos has been married for 26 years and she also has a son named Joshua. Morgan, who has been married for 33 years, also has a daughter named Ashley.

He spoke about how the company is very dedicated to their families and that’s another reason why they participate in fundraising events.

“It just increases the quality of the life for each and every one of the associates who work here because they get to do something for a half-day or day every week or month. They get paid, and it’s giving back,” Morgan said.

He said the company is also a member of the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, Grandview Chamber of Commerce and South Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

“We just attended the Top 10 small business banquet put on by the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and although we didn’t finish in the top 10, we did finish in the Top 100,” he said with a laugh.

Morgan said they pride themselves on conscientious service to their customers.

When asked why they participate, one of the reasons Morgan cited is that “there’s a lot of civic pride in AIDS Walk.”

Manos said that her role on the steering committee is relatively recent, so she knows her roles will change in the future.

“Right now there I’m there for them to tell me what to do. It’s a great bunch of people,” said Manos. “And I think that’s what makes it so nice.”

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