It was the perfect start to the what was shaping up to be a banner year for PWA’s sustaining fundraiser, the Friends For Life Bike Rally. Celebrating its 20thyear, hundreds came out to Nathan Philips Square at Toronto’s City Hall to send off the 340+ Riders and Crew on the journey of a lifetime.
The Bike Rally started in 1999 by Danny Nashman and the late David Linton, 2 friends who were no stranger to the HIV issues facing our community. David, a PWA Board member and client, knew too well the financial issues facing PWA. Money was tight and services so desperately needed were under threat due to the lack of available funds. PWA, the largest practical support service provider in Canada – back then and to this day – was feeding, financially supporting, providing service navigation, and creating safe spaces for hundreds of people living with HIV and AIDS; services still offered and still in great demand. These programs were helping to keep people healthy, engaged, and hopeful and PWA needed funding fast.
That first year, the Bike Rally raised $44,000 – a significant amount of money for a small community charity – but more importantly, it created a movement. Twenty years, more than $17 million dollars, and over 5000 participants later, people of all ages, skills, and abilities enthusiastically participate in the Bike Rally. While the ultimate goal is to raise critical funds and invaluable awareness about HIV and AIDS, the Bike Rally is also the best possible ‘adult camp’ experience imaginable – it’s not called Friends For Life for nothing!
While the official week of the event was July 29 – August 3, the Bike Rally is a year-long event with hundreds of hours of planning, organizing, training and fundraising. The small staff of 3.5 provide the professional and agency support while a dedicated team of incredible volunteers oversee the ‘experience’ planning and execution of the event. This year’s dedicated leaders, Ted Robinson and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, themselves have over 12 combined volunteer years and hundreds of volunteer leadership hours with the Bike Rally – not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars raised between them. Their influence knows no bounds including the Prime Minister’s office resulting in a surprise message of well wishesfrom Justin Trudeau himself!
Events tend to have a shelf life but the Bike Rally doesn’t show any signs of fading. A multi-year planning project found that the enthusiasm and commitment to the Bike Rally and PWA was as strong today as it was in 1999. The introduction of several key initiativesover the next few years will ensure the Bike Rally remains a relevant and appealing activity and fundraiser.
The week went off without a hitch, it seemed even Mother Nature was rooting for a spectacular 20thAnniversary. Everyone arrived in Montreal on Friday, August 3 a little exhausted and stupendously excited. The Bike Rally raised $1.76 million dollars – the most ever raised in a single year ($1.49 in 2013). Funding that will ensure and healthy future for PWA but more importantly, a healthy future for the thousands of people living with HIV and AIDS who count on PWA every year.
Click here for photos from the week of the event!