Walking for a worthy cause

A Fishtown man will be play­ing a key role in or­gan­iz­ing the 27th an­nu­al AIDS Walk Philly this year.

Tristan Ruby of Fishtown, cen­ter, with per­formers at the black-tie Gay­BINGO event to raise funds to fight HIV and AIDS. JEFF FUSCO FOR AIDS FUND

This Sunday, Oct. 20, nearly 15,000 people will as­semble on the steps of the Phil­adelphia Mu­seum of Art to par­ti­cip­ate in an event of cru­cial im­port­ance to Phil­adelphi­ans liv­ing with HIV and AIDS.

It’s the an­nu­al AIDS Walk Philly, now in its 27th year, which raises funds for HIV pre­ven­tion, pub­lic aware­ness and care ser­vices.

Start­ing at 9 a.m., par­ti­cipants can choose either to walk a 12K route or run along the 5K route. 

But Tristan Ruby of Fishtown will be there long be­fore 9 a.m. And even though he won’t be walk­ing or run­ning, his vo­lun­teer role is an im­port­ant once.

In­side a large white tent, he’ll be on hand to su­per­vise the dona­tions that par­ti­cipants have col­lec­ted from their spon­sors. A long­time vo­lun­teer with the AIDS Fund, the or­gan­iz­a­tion that spon­sors the event, he’s par­ti­cip­ated in al­most every walk since 1999. He now serves as co­ordin­at­or for dona­tions, su­per­vising 30 oth­er vo­lun­teers who help col­lect dona­tions and  pro­cess cred­it card dona­tions.

“We get to meet the walk­ers and in­ter­act with them,” he says. “It’s great to see people very ex­cited and mo­tiv­ated.”

Each par­ti­cipant is re­ques­ted to make a min­im­um pledge of $50.  

But some raise far more than that. The vo­lun­teers pur­posely have var­ied noise­makers on hand, such as whistles and bells. “When there’s a dona­tion of $500 or more, they’ll use  the noise­makers and then the whole tent ap­plauds,” relates Ruby. “We want to show our ap­pre­ci­ation and en­cour­age people who have worked so hard to raise funds.”

He, too, is one of those who works hard. This Sunday, he’ll re­port to the tent by 5:30 a.m. He makes sure everything is ready and then, throughout the morn­ing, he su­per­vises the vo­lun­teers who will col­lect the dona­tions from the walk­ers.

He’s still in the tent at 7:30 a.m. when the read­ing of the names of AIDS vic­tims be­gins on the steps of the Art Mu­seum. Any name sub­mit­ted by someone loc­al is read. These names are sol­emnly read by 30 dif­fer­ent read­ers. There are so many names  that a full hour is set aside for this tra­di­tion.

Then, after a brief open­ing ce­re­mony, the walk it­self be­gins.  The 12K route goes up Kelly Drive, crosses Falls Bridge and then con­tin­ues down Mar­tin Luth­er King Drive back to Eakins Oval.   The more ath­let­ic par­ti­cipants do the AIDS Run, a 10 K run that is USA Track and Field cer­ti­fied.

The event brings to­geth­er friends, fam­il­ies, co-work­ers and class­mates. Some are reg­u­lar par­ti­cipants. “We see fa­mil­i­ar faces who re­turn year after year,” says Ruby.

Of­ten walk­ers or­gan­ize them­selves in­to a team. Some teams are from area schools; oth­ers work for com­pan­ies. “Some com­pan­ies will match whatever the walk­ers will raise,” says Ruby. “I’ve seen dona­tions of $2000, $3000—even as high as $10,000. People really work hard for this.”

He’s  well aware that this money is for a cause that is still ur­gent. “The epi­dem­ic of HIV and AIDS is not over- not by any stretch of the ima­gin­a­tion,” says Ruby.  An es­tim­ated 30,000 people in the Phil­adelphia  are liv­ing with HIV (the vir­us that causes AIDS) .  And more than one mil­lion in the U.S. are liv­ing with HIV or AIDS.  It’s es­tim­ated that al­most 50,000 will be­come in­fec­ted this year. In­deed, every nine and a half minutes, someone is in­fec­ted.  

In the Great­er Phil­adelphia area,  30,000 people are liv­ing with HIV and AIDS. “The funds we raise go to help them,” says Ruby. These funds stay in the Great­er Phil­adelphia re­gion. They go  to­wards  care ser­vices, HIV pre­ven­tion and edu­ca­tion, and pub­lic aware­ness.

The par­ti­cipants know they are walk­ing — or run­ning — for a good cause. Wheth­er they walk in teams or with friends, or on their own,  it’s a spir­ited event. And even though Ruby is busy  in the tent throughout the morn­ing- he still feels very much in­volved.  

“Every in­ter­ac­tion I have with someone walk­ing is spe­cial,” he says. “Every­one has a dif­fer­ent reas­on for why they walk. Some walk in re­mem­brance of a vic­tim.  They of­ten tell their per­son­al stor­ies, which is very touch­ing. They all bring their ex­cite­ment and pas­sion.”

Ruby him­self did not have any  friend or fam­ily mem­ber who died of AIDS. “But I knew so many oth­er people who did, so this was a way of giv­ing back,” he says about why he got in­volved in the AIDS Fund in l997. He’s been an act­ive vo­lun­teer ever since, and  served a six year term as a board mem­ber.  

At the an­nu­al AIDS walk, he’s  been co­ordin­at­or of the dona­tion tent since 2007. His part­ner, Tim Logue, shares his com­mit­ment and works with him in the tent.

Ruby’s full time work relates to HIV pre­ven­tion. He’s dir­ect­or of Plain Talk Philly, a teen preg­nancy pre­ven­tion ini­ti­at­ive of the Pub­lic Health Man­age­ment Cor­por­a­tion. “ We run free edu­ca­tion pro­grams  for par­ents and young people,” he ex­plains. “We edu­cate about sexu­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases and one of our goals is to re­duce HIV in­fec­tion as well as teen preg­nancy.”

But however busy he is with this work, vo­lun­teer­ing for the AIDS Walk is an  im­port­ant com­mit­ment. And he’s look­ing for­ward to his par­ti­cip­a­tion once again this Sunday.

“By the end, I’m usu­ally ex­hausted, but it’s ab­so­lutely worth it,” he says.  “The en­ergy I get from all the par­ti­cipants keeps me go­ing strong. It’s al­ways a won­der­ful ex­per­i­ence.” 

To re­gister on­line as a walk­er, run­ner or vo­lun­teer for the AIDS Walk this Sunday, con­tact AIDS Fund at 215-731-9255 or www.aids­fun­d­philly.org.

You can reach at rrovner@aol.com.

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