By Abbie Peterson
After years of producing events, there is one thing we know for sure. Peer-to-peer fundraising events are magic. They allow individuals to come together as one community to grieve, honor, celebrate and fight for causes that are important to us. They give us tangible ways to create change and they help channel emotions into action. Peer-to-peer fundraising events can do wonders in bringing awareness and shining a light on important issues in society. They can also help educate the larger population on issues they might not be familiar with. In honor of Pride Month, we interviewed Kristin, Patrick, René and Slade about their time working for the AIDSRide, an important event for the LGBTQIA+ community that helped shape their careers in the events industry to where they are today.
Starting with its inaugural ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 1994, the AIDSRide welcomed people from all over the country to take part in cycling events while raising money to support the fight against HIV/AIDS. “The AIDSRide community, including participants and staff, was so supportive. It was a lot of fun and there was kind of a summer camp feel to the rides. The events were a way to process the sadness of what was happening at the time, but there was also an element of fun. There would be drag queens on the route and people could be their authentic selves,” Patrick recalls. He worked on the AIDSRide staff from 1999-2002.
For all four Event 360 staff members who worked on the AIDSRides in those early years, the community and relationships formed during their time are some things they’ll never forget. Kristin remembers, “The community bubble that was created on the AIDSRide is what drew me in. Meeting new people, pushing through a challenge together, all while knowing you’re doing something for the greater good was an incredible combination.” Kristin worked on the AIDSRide staff from 2000-2002 first as a Rider Representative for the D.C. AIDSRide and then as the Dispatch Manager on the Touring Team.
Logistically, planning a 100+ mile cycling event without the use of smartphones and laptops for on-the-go information was a feat. But that’s exactly what the AIDSRide team did. “Technology has made event work so much easier. We used to have to create binders full of directions to every single stop associated with the event. People couldn’t just look it up on GPS,” says Slade. He worked on the AIDSRide staff in 2002 as a Crisis Manager. “And we used to have to fly to each city, buy maps and drive around for days to solidify venues and routes. Now we just look at Google Earth.” Patrick remembers, “To fundraise, we used to make phone calls—where people would actually answer the phone! We also would throw what we called “house parties” where we’d invite our friends, order pizza and then make a big ask at the end for donations.” Some of those “old-fashioned” techniques are starting to come back into favor, as people crave more personal connections.
Back then, prepping emergency plans and being able to think on your feet were extra important given the difficulties of mass communication while on event without smart technology. “During the 1999 Boston to NYC AIDSRide, Hurricane Floyd hit the east coast during ride weekend. We couldn’t ride from Boston to NYC for two days due to the weather, but instead of canceling the event, organizers arranged for all 3,000 participants to be bussed and housed in temporary shelters overnight along the way to NYC. On the last day, as the storm had passed, we rode our bikes into NYC with the sun shining down on us. We had ridden the storm out and this became my most memorable ride!” says René. He worked on the AIDSRide staff from 2001-2002 as a Rider Representative.
Lessons they learned throughout the ride are still important to our event pros today. “Because we used to have to do almost every part of the event logistics manually, that attention to detail is something I still carry with me today in planning events,” states Slade. For Kristin, “The people who participated in the event, the crew and my coworkers, those are some of the most rock-solid people you will ever meet in your life. You always try to recreate that feeling of camaraderie.”
Over 20 years later as we’ve hit milestone medical and scientific advancements in the fight against HIV/AIDS, people can now live longer, better and healthier lives. With Pride Month coming to an end, our work to support the LGBTQIA+ community does not. Many communities are still disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS, so we continue to push for change through events we produce for AIDS Healthcare Foundation, including the Florida AIDS Walk and AIDS Walk Atlanta. We are proud to partner with AIDS Healthcare Foundation as it is more essential than ever that we celebrate Pride and continue to organize and support year-round to protect the LGTBQIA+ community and all our neighbors.
Though Kristin, Patrick, René and Slade all got their start in events through their connection to the LGBTQIA+ community, they stayed because the events industry is widely more welcoming than most. The nature of events is to bring people together, and as event professionals, we know the key to success is accepting all for who they are.
Happy Pride Month to all!