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U of M AIDS walk team laces up

The U of M AIDS Walk team is proving to be a fund-raising juggernaut

By Adam Overland

Dan Wolter and Amelious Whyte 165
Dan Wolter (left) and Amelious Whyte are part of a U of M team raising money for the MN AIDS Project.

April 27, 2010

University of Minnesota faculty, staff, and students have always been generous when it comes to charitable giving. The U's yearly Community Fund Drive consistently raises more than $1 million for Minnesota charities (nearly $1.2 million in 2009 with 5,000 participants). So when University News Service director Dan Wolter decided he wanted to raise money for the 2010 AIDS Walk, a program of the Minnesota AIDS Project, he turned to his friends and coworkers to create a U of M AIDS Walk team.

"We thought it would be a great way to highlight, to a very research-supporting community, the outstanding work and commitment of the University of Minnesota towards the HIV/AIDS epidemic since its earliest days," says Wolter. Wolter adds that the HIV/AIDS community is one that very much understands the importance of the research mission of the University.

For now, the team is modest in size, with just 17 members including administrators, researchers, and students—but they're a fund-raising juggernaut. While some teams have more than 50 members, the U's team has been jockeying for first place in total dollars raised among hundreds of teams (as of this writing, they are in the lead with nearly $10,000 raised—much of it donated by the U community).

Funding is down
The dollars couldn't come at a better time—funding for AIDS prevention and services in Minnesota has been on the decline while the number of those affected by HIV continues to increase. In 2008, there were 326 new cases of HIV diagnosed throughout the state, impacting people of all races, genders, and sexual orientations. What's more, new cases are increasingly common among young people in Minnesota.

Join or donate to the team!
If you'd like to donate to the cause, see the U of M Team webpage. Here, you can read the individual reasons—many personal—about some of the team members. If you're interested in joining, there's still time, and there's always next year. Just get in touch by emailing Dan Wolter.

Undergraduate Miles Dombrovski (of "Minnesota Miles" fame) joined the effort because of what he called, in an editorial to the Minnesota Daily, "troubling news about the increase in HIV infection among young people—those of us born after the darkest days of HIV/AIDS in the United States."

Friendly competition?
Others involved in the effort include Amelious Whyte, chief of staff in the Office of Student Affairs. Whyte has gathered enough donations in just a month-and-a-half to put him in second place, not just among his U teammates, but overall, with Wolter following closely behind.

Whyte first became involved when he donated to the effort last year and suggested to Wolter that they organize a team in 2010. "He (Wolter) remembered I'd said that. I didn't," says Whyte. So Whyte kicked off his fund-raising at his own birthday party by asking his friends to donate $5 in lieu of a present. Less than two months later, he's raised nearly 10 times his goal of $500.

That's sits fine with Wolter, but not without adding a caveat in his defense. "I'm a little competitive. I started out as an early fund-raising leader, and he started getting just a ton of small donations. Being chief of staff of student affairs, he's got, I think, 1,500 Facebook friends, and everyone who has ever been in student government for however long he's been here knows him and loves him," says Wolter.
As for Whyte, he's glad he got involved. "It feels great. I'm amazed at people who have given who I didn't think would give—people I went to grade school with, students I advised—I am getting donations of $25 from current undergraduates!" says Whyte. 

Although the U of M team is a volunteer effort by persons who attend, work at, or support the University of Minnesota, the U does not officially sponsor the team. However, the U as an institution has been a leader in the reduction, treatment, and eventual cure of HIV/AIDS. A leading HIV medication, Ziagen, was developed here, and the School of Public Health (SPH) is a leader in stopping the transmission of HIV/AIDS across the globe (the Biostatistics Department at SPH also has a team).

Unfortunately, the Minnesota AIDS Clinical Trials Unit at the U lost NIH funding in 2006. Like so many other causes, individual philanthropy is often the lynchpin of some of these programs, and the Minnesota AIDS Project raises more than a quarter of a million dollars annually.

The Minnesota AIDS Walk is a 10-kilometer walk, beginning and ending in Minnehaha Park along the Mississippi River, and passing Eastcliff. It takes place on May 16.