A walk for AVOC gives not just you, but your friends, family, neighbors, and others a chance to volunteer. It's a ripple of volunteerism, some folks walking, some folks sponsoring which helps AVOC spread services and support. I've done the AVOC Walkathon and, in our conservative town, this event has flair. It's downright festive. First of all, there are booths of free bagels, coffee, fruit, water, PowerBars and other goodies all along the walk route. There are warm-up activities. At the end of the walk, there's free pizza and soda, great musical performances, giveaways, prize drawings (AVOC gets great sponsors, so these are top-notch prizes, including roundtrip airline tickets and generous gift certificates) and free massages by professional massage therapists.
I enjoy the eclectic mixture of people who participate: from St Ursuline students and Army cadets, to church groups, Lazarus employees, sororities and fraternities.
And then there's Cincinnati's wonderful gay, lesbian and transgendered community. The first year I walked, I went alone and ended up with a woman (also there alone) who was a ballerina with the Cincinnati Ballet. Another year, I ended the walk by marching in formation with some Army cadets at the homestretch.
Just by walking a few hours and getting people I know to sponsor me for $3 to $25, each year I raise about $250 for AVOC and raise my level of satisfaction that I'm doing my small part to help the fight against HIV/AIDS. Besides getting great exercise, I also get a terrific view of and orientation to downtown Cincinnati and Covington, a reminder of the many beautiful spots that some people seem to have forgotten.
So, what does AVOC do exactly, and how can you get involved? AVOC provides supportive and educational services to people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS. Opportunities for volunteers abound. There's the Buddy Program, which provides one-to-one emotional support; Helping Hands, which provides volunteer assistance with grocery shopping, odd jobs, errands or whatever the volunteer feels like offering; Fundraising and Special Event Planning, which utilizes volunteers to solicit funds, help plan and staff events and fundraisers; the newsletter (volunteers assist via writing, editing, distributing); and, volunteering with AVOC office tasks. Most volunteer activities have no set time commitment, and you can help AVOC by working directly with clients or by working with AVOC staff and activities.
To volunteer, you attend a four-hour initial orientation; the next one is Oct. 20. To be a Helping Hand, you attend an additional four-hour training. To be a Buddy, you attend training sessions totaling 18 hours. AVOC can always use volunteers for services to its 1,000 or so clients, and for help with the agency's many Special Events. Besides the Walkathon, AVOC puts on events like "Divas," a dinner and show with performances by local singers; cabarets featuring touring Broadway performers (the next is Oct. 8 with members of the cast of Phantom of the Opera); the annual "Cirque du Bizarre" fundraiser; dinners; and the Drag Races.
It's been my experience that when you get out there, anywhere, as a volunteer, you move outside yourself and into the world of others. In doing so, you learn a little more about yourself. Maybe you can't walk in someone else's shoes, but you can damn sure take a walk in your own shoes on AVOC's behalf. And, hey, who knows? You just might learn something.
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