Students participate in Walk for Love to benefit Chrysalis

Sixty people, including College students and faculty and local residents – gathered on Poker Flats Saturday morning to kick off the first annual Walk for Love. The relaxed-pace, 5K course through the streets of Williamstown raised $3,347 for Chrysalis Community, a home for patients in the advanced stages of AIDS. In addition to those who walked the course, at least 20 others sent in donations specifically earmarked to the walk-a-thon’s total, including a $250 anonymous donation from Boston. All proceeds will go directly to Chrysalis.

Members of the Williams Walk for Love organization (with support from CC and the Chaplain’s office), the Chrysalis board and Lehman Community Service Council organized the walk with hopes that it would do more than just raise funds for the residence. Besides fostering an understanding of the needs of AIDS patients and homes like Chrysalis, organizers hoped that the day would also showcase the general message of support that is been to Chrysalis’ mission. They were not disappointed.

Sunshine Wohl, Chrysalis’ founder and visionary, said the day was “simply fantastic. We got out, raised awareness in the community and shared some of the power and spirit we try to surround Chrysalis with every day.”

Wohl founded the home as part of a promise to her brother John, who died of AIDS in 1987, that nobody should have to die alone. While visiting him in the hospital, she was struck by the fact that though her brother was surrounded by family and friends, many other patients saw no one but the same doctors and nurses every day. Her solution was to create a home for end-stage AIDS patients with no housing options where they could live out their lives in a loving, nurturing environment.

The home, located on a 108-acre farm in Pownal, Vt, opened this spring with its first resident. Chrysalis currently has a capacity for five patients and plans are in the works for a gathering room on the property where residents, volunteers, community members, family and friends will be able to gather and interact.

Wohl hopes to offer art, dance and yoga therapy classes as well. She said that a large part of Chrysalis’ mission lies in helping its residents achieve spiritual healing and peace. “We’re all about being a holistic community united in spirit and love,” she said.

“I first got involved with Chrysalis because I was interested in AIDS causes and wanted to support AIDS awareness,” said Christine Hunt ’06, who volunteered at the walk. “We go [to Chrysalis] every Saturday – it’s fun and not that big of a time commitment.”

“It was a really fun experience helping to organize the walk,” she said. “We really started from scratch and had to work from the ground up. We had nothing at first, and then piece by piece, we had this walk. I think we did really well.”

Meghan Ryan ’06 and Alissa Caron ’06, members of Williams Walk for Love, were also thrilled with how the day turned out. But both noted that what was most encouraging about the walk-a-thon was the community response they experienced as they walked door-to-door to area businesses promoting the event and soliciting donations. Local businesses donated all of the prizes awarded to top fundraisers, including airline tickets and gift certificates to Mezze, the Williams Inn, Water Street Grille and eleven.

Partially as a result of recent articles in The North Adams Transcript and a nationally syndicated Associated Press feature announcing Chrysalis’ opening, many in the community were already aware of what lies five miles up Route 7. Another reason for the day’s success could be Wohl’s energy and the relentless spirit she puts into promoting the mission of the home.

“We’d walk into a store and ask them to put up a poster about the walk, and they’d remember Sunshine and smile. It seemed like everybody knew Sunshine,” said Caron.

Caron and Ryan got involved with Chrysalis through the “Where am I?” first-days program and Frosh Service Day in the fall. Over Winter Study and continuing through this semester, the pair has been part of a group of Williams students who visit the community every weekend, and both say they will continue to work at the home and organize fundraisers such as the Walk for Love in the future.

“Once anyone goes to Chrysalis, they’re hooked,” Ryan said. “You just can’t help falling in love with the place.”

Wohl hopes to foster a similar spirit with events like the Walk for Love. She has been encouraged by the community support thus far, but is always looking to get more people involved, especially students at the College.

“Chrysalis is entirely dependent on volunteers – they are the heart and spirit necessary to make sure this community succeeds,” Wohl said.

The community is currently dependent on donations and fundraisers, but Wohl and her six-member board of directors are currently in the process of applying for government grants to help expand the facilities. Eventually, she hopes to add more residences on the property and promote a widespread movement developing centers like Chrysalis in communities around the world.

Hunt expressed similar hopes: “When I saw everybody walking back to Poker, cheerful and happy, that’s when I knew it had been a success,” she said. “It will only grow from here.”