The People Behind the Scenes of AIDS Walk
April 6, 2012
by John Long
J.P. Crilly and husband-and-wife team Gary and Janie Foltz are the 2012 AIDS Walk co-chairs (and our cover models for this issue of Camp). Knowing that these three people have volunteered to organize such a huge project might make people wonder: Why do these co-chairs do what they do?
For the Foltzes, it all started with a shared driveway. Janie Foltz said she and her husband first got involved with AIDS Walk because of their relationship with their neighbor, with whom they shared a driveway.
“We started about 14 years ago, but very slowly,” she said. “… Our next-door neighbor, Sloane Simmons [former AIDS Service Foundation president and longtime volunteer with the walk">, invited us to come. And we started out as registration, and as we worked through the events, it just became evident that the people who worked with AIDS Walk were a great group of people, who were bright and devoted and loyal to their cause and hard-working. And it really became something very important to us over the years.”
Like so many others who work on AIDS Walk, the co-chairs had personal stories that played a role in their decisions to get involved.
“About seven years ago, I had my first friend tell me that he was positive,” said Crilly, 41. “And I thought, ‘Oh my God, what are you going to do?’ Then over the next couple of years, I had people come up to me wanting to kill themselves because they were positive, and I said, ‘No, we’re going to fight this. We’re not going to cure the world, but we’re going to make it better for you.’”
Janie Foltz said that she and Gary had similar experiences with friends.
“I think we were fairly naïve to the issues and the problems until we moved to Hyde Park,” she said. “We had lots of neighbors and friends that we were very close to, and we realized that this is not an issue that has gone away, and [it"> is still as important as it was 20 years ago.”
AIDS Walk, now in its 24th year, was started in 1988 by dedicated volunteers who saw a need to fight the deadly HIV/AIDS epidemic that was ravaging the world. It was initially called “Walk for Life.” In 1992 the AIDS Service Foundation was formed to use the money from AIDS Walk and other fundraisers to benefit Kansas City’s four primary AIDS service organizations: Kansas City Free Health Clinic, SAVE Inc., Good Samaritan Project and HARCMart. When HARCMart closed in 2006, Hope Care Center was added to the list of primary beneficiaries.
Janie Foltz, 63, is a native of Kansas City, and husband Gary, 64, says he feels like a native. He was born in Seattle and grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, but has lived in the area for 25 years.
They have two daughters, one in town and the other in Denver. Gary Foltz is retired from his career as a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Janie Foltz was the director of the Lee Ann Britain Infant Development Center at Shawnee Mission Medical Center. Both the Foltzes are involved in other charities, including a 5k run in Hyde Park called the Pilgrim Run, where Gary serves as the race director. Janie still volunteers with her former job at Shawnee Mission Medical Center.
Crilly was born and raised in Kansas City, Kan., where his father is past president of the Chamber of Commerce.”
He works at Commercial Claims Inc., a family business in Kansas City, Kan. He and his partner, Randy Blevins, live apart. “He’s a dairy farmer in Hiawatha, Kan., and I’ll never move there, and he wants me to move there,” Crilly said with a laugh.
He talked about how supportive his parents, Pat and Rosie Crilly, have been to him as a gay man and how supportive they have been to AIDS Walk.
“I was real scared to come out to them in my 20s. I was real worried about my dad finding out because he was former military, a schoolteacher, was in business. And I thought my mom knew since I was living with a gay guy at the time. And so Dad said, ‘I don’t give a s**t who you sleep with. You’re my son.’ And it was real, real moving for me. And that’s probably why I’m doing this today.”
The co-chairs get to put their own stamp on things, working with AIDS Walk event director Michael Lintecum and associate producer Josh Strodtman on some new events.
Gary Foltz said that a new event on May 20, — a Garden Party at the home of Mikie Meier will replace the former Union Hill parties.
Crilly talked about the new event on June 22 called “Denim.”
“Damian Lair has taken over with Chadwick Brooks and come up with this – and do not call it a fashion party – it is a denim experience. It will go through the history of denim since denim was invented, all the way up to Tom Ford,” he said.
The event will include models and will feature narration by actors Ron Megee and David Wayne Reed.
“This is something that has got to be experienced,” Gary Foltz said. “As you can tell, it’s a little hard for us to describe. I think people must come and experience it for themselves,”
Crilly said that fundraising for the 2012 event ends with their fiscal year in June. Work began on this year’s AIDS Walk with the events connected to World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, 2011. Even after AIDS Walk, the Foltzes will host the annual “Party with a Purpose” on June 16 on their block in Hyde Park.
“It’s kid-friendly,” said Crilly, and Janie Foltz added, “It’s family-friendly,” as they laughed.
The co-chairs credited Sloane Simmons, Greg Hugeback and Catherine Stark-Corn for organizing the annual Mosaic art show of artistic tiles created by area high school students. The tiles depict the students’ images of HIV/AIDS. This year’s event, held on April 6, features art in addition to the tiles.
“We’ve always had students, and that’s another great educational way to bring this into the schools, and this year they will have artists in town doing tiles and also bowls,” Janie Foltz said.
Crilly said that the annual AIDS Walk Open putt-putt golf tourney/pub crawl, held in March, was another great success this year.
“We raised $20,000,” he said. “There were no administrative costs. It all goes to the charities that the AIDS Services Foundation supports.”
The co-chairs emphasized that if walkers or teams establish their own First Giving web page through the AIDS Walk website, they can raise all kinds of money, from pledges as small as $5 or $10 to much larger gifts.
“First Giving is our online resource, and that has really helped our fundraising efforts. It’s really been an evolutionary process over the years of checks and envelopes, and we’re to the point now where we’re hoping that a large proportion of the money that is raised from teams and individuals comes from the online First Giving,” said Gary Foltz.
Crilly acknowledged all the support they receive in the community. Every year, the co-chairs of AIDS Walk work with more than 100 volunteers, in addition to the steering committee, which includes 27 people this year.
Crilly said, “If I could put a plug in, I do want [owners"> Gene and Jeffrey to know, here at Bistro 303 where we are sitting, what they do is appreciated. They would rather die than not see this go on.”
Crilly and the Foltzes also acknowledged volunteers like Rick, Anne and Koree Frye, Shawn Mullane and former co-chairs like Claire Fitzsimmons and Nancy Seelen, who they said come back year after year and work tirelessly on all of the AIDS Walk activities, including the set-up and execution of the actual walk.
“They are so over the top on blood, sweat and tears,” Crilly said.
Both the Foltzes and Crilly laughed when they said that unlike some charities where committee chairs are often wealthy society matrons, AIDS Walk is a completely different story.
“I’m good for a bar tab, and that’s it,” Crilly said with a laugh.
“All it takes to be a good volunteer is the time and energy and dedication,” said Janie Foltz. “I would say that I’m inspired daily from the people who work in this – from Michael Lintecum to the steering committee and everyone else. It’s just a great group of people.”
Gary Foltz seconded his wife’s statement, saying, “We get as much back from it, from our efforts, and more, because the people we work with are such great people.”