The annual Ride For AIDS Chicago will have about 275 participants this year, including about 200 ridersand about half of the cyclists are first-time participants in the Test Positive Aware Network's largest fundraiser, which raises vital unrestricted funds for TPAN and its community partners.
The two-day, 200-mile bicycle ride on July 9-10, which starts and ends in suburban Evanston, is shooting to raise $750,000and two weeks before the opening ceremony, that tally stood at about $375,000.
"Money raised through the Ride provides TPAN with the unrestricted funds we need to fill the gaps in funding for our programs and operational costs so that we can continue seamlessly providing excellent, and free, services for our clients," said TPAN CEO Patti Capouch. "Unrestricted funding is money that TPAN can use for any purpose, such as operating costs not covered by grants [rent, utilities], staff not covered by grants [finance staff, development staff] and programs not fully funded by grants, such as TPAN's Art Therapy program.
"As with many non-profits, several of TPAN's core programs operate with funding deficits, [such as] Client Advocacy [42 percent underfunded]; Prevention Services [19 percent underfunded]; Mental Health services [11 percent underfunded]; and Substance Abuse Programs [10 percent underfunded].
Capouch added, "Our goals for this year are to engage with the Ride's Community Partners and encourage more people to ride, crew, or volunteer to support those living with or at risk for HIV in Chicagoland. TPAN is committed to ending the stigma associated with HIV, and we believe that the Ride is one of the strongest ways to build community and unite agencies and individuals towards that goal. The Ride is an easy way to provide fundraising assistance and community engagement for TPAN and its six Community Partners, including the newly added Howard Brown Health, without adding expenses or staffing. In turn, the Community Partners extend TPAN's reach, allowing Ride donors and participants to enact greater change for Chicagoland's HIV community."
TPAN this year has added a one-day, 100-mile option to further encourage participation, Capouch said.
Ald. Ariel Reboyras ( 30th Ward ) is the current, longest-returning rider, having ridden for the last 11 years. Dr. Robert Garofalo is currently the top fundraiser, with $10,703 raised. Carl Branch is second, with $9,200, and James Sumers is third, with $7,160. Yvette Pryor and Gregory Schweickert round out the top five, with $6,000 each.
Capouch said this year's riders are, once again, a diverse bunch, "which supports TPAN's work to provide free programs for those affected by HIV regardless of economic status, race, ethnicity, or sexual identity," she said.
About 75 percent of the riders are male, 25 percent are under age 30;and 52 percent are older than 50. The majority are from Illinois, although there also are participants from Colorado, Texas, Michigan, Maryland, and Missouri. Capouch said, "This event appeals to people from a varying employment and socio-economic backgrounds, including CEOs [Chicago House's new CEO, Scott Ammarell, also a former TPAN board member]; doctors [Rob Garofalo, captain of the Fred Says team]; attorneys, financial executives, part-time servers, therapists [two of TPAN's staff therapists are riding: Kimberly Rogers and Christina Joly], HIV testing counselors, a small cadre of nannies, and others.
Some Ride participants are openly HIV-positive, and they once again can elect to wear an orange bandana during that weekend's event to symbolize their status.
"The orange bandanas are a central component of the Ride's mission to fight the stigma associated with HIV," Capouch said. "The Ride is a safe environment for those who are HIV-positiveparticipants are among friends, fellow HIV-positive people, and our HIV-negative allies. Choosing to wear an orange bandana is a way to link hands with our community and represent the spirit of freedom, living openly as yourself, and caring for those with HIV, which the Ride champions."
Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky will speak at the opening ceremony.
As for the closing ceremony, "we're focusing on participant experience and encouraging friends and family members to join us to celebrate each rider's journey of 100 or 200 miles," Capouch said.
The Finale Festival will be held in Leahy Park, 1100 W. Lincoln St., in Evanston at 2-4 p.m.
And yes, there will be the traditional Rider-less bike procession will be back this year, which has grown into the most moving, emotional moment of the entire weekend.
A group of HIV-positive riders and crew will lead the bike in at the opening ceremony, and return the bike at the Finale Festival. "The bike commemorates those lost to HIV/AIDS and reminds us that those who aren't able to join us for the two-day event are with us in spirit," Capouch said.
Capouch, 53, provides strategic direction for the event, and she works hand in hand with Gary Nelson, the events and communication manager. She also serves on the crew for several pre-Ride training sessions.
When asked if she will ever ride, Capouch said she likely won'tbut she definitely cherishes her role within the Ride, particularly as part of the crew.
"I think I was made to be more of a behind-the-scenes crew member when it comes to athletic events," she said. "I grew up in the country where I learned to ride a bike; that is the only place I've ever ridden. I really admire all of the folks who are doing the Ride, though. They work so hardphysically and emotionallyfor several months to train and fundraise. I am so happy to support them on their journey, from big picture planning of the event to pouring ice into riders' thermos' at a pit stop."
The day before the Ride, Capouch will spend hours helping to load pit crew vans and ironing out last-minute details. The morning of the Ride, she'll bring coffee and the donuts to the opening ceremony. "I welcome the riders and wish them a safe journey and then head out on the road," she said. "I drive to every pit stop so I can greet the riders as they come in and help the crew teams in any way I can.
"My favorite part is greeting the riders as they make their way into camp and then visiting with them, listening to their stories of their day. On day two, the riders need extra cheering. Again, I'll hit all of the pit stops before making my way back to the closing ceremonies."
Capouch hands out medals to finishing riders.
"It's such an emotional and exhilarating experience," she said. "Last year, the [Ride] was one of the highlights of my year at TPAN.
"Even if someone has not lost someone personally to HIV/AIDS, this event is a reminder that we are all affected by the epidemic in some way as humans who strive for meaningful connection with others. When hundreds of Riders, crew and volunteers are banded together in solidarity during the weekendriding through all kinds of weather, plus physical and emotional challenges, being visible in the streets to passersby, cheering squads sparkling in sequins peppering the route of rural Wisconsinthey are creating significant change.
"Whether riding 200 miles or being a crew member cutting up bananas, all participants of RFAC are promoting crucial dialog about HIV/AIDS."
In 2009, TPAN launched the Community Partner Program to broaden the Ride's impact. Local community-based organizations have the opportunity to participate in the Ride and raise money for their own programming. As result, dozens of HIV/AIDS programs throughout Chicago have been sustained. In 2016, the Ride is partnering with: About Face Theatre, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Center on Halsted, Chicago House Social Service Agency, Fred Says, and Howard Brown Health Center.
See RideForAIDS.org .