Celebrating more than 25 years of vibrancy, fun and charitable giving, the annual Crape Myrtle Festival returned to Raleigh July 17-26.

Created in 1981, the festival is the oldest AIDS-related fundraiser in the Southeast. Through its yearly events and galas, over $1 million has been raised for AIDS service organizations (ASOs) statewide.

The history
In 1981 a small group of friends gathered in Wilmington, N.C., in a friend’s backyard to discuss ways they could help combat the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s. It was the same year that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognized the epidemic as such.

As the festival grew, organizers moved the events to Chapel Hill and used the proceeds to shore up financial resources for groups fighting HIV/AIDS in the Triangle area.

In the 1990s, a diversity of events were planned, shaping the Crape Myrtle Festival we know today. Educational seminars, sports tournaments and concerts were held with the purpose of increasing awareness, empowerment and prevention.

In 1993, the festival received official 501(c)(3) status with the State of North Carolina.

The work
Kevin Colgan, 43, is one of this year’s Crape Myrtle Festival co-chairs. For more than 15 years this Raleigh resident has supported the festival and its mission financially, but it wasn’t until three years ago that he got the calling to step up and take a more active role.

“I was attending one of Crape Myrtle Festival’s fundraising events and got to talking with Tim Simmons, president of the CMF Board of Directors,” Colgan said. “The passion and dedication that he had and still has for this cause really got to me and I was at a point in my adult life where I felt it was time for me to give more back to the community other them just writing a check. I really felt a desire to be more hands on.”

Colgan said the work doesn’t come without its challenges.

“Securing corporate sponsorships and fundraising in general has been our biggest challenge this year,” he said. “With the struggling economy and rising energy costs, corporations as well as many individuals are having to scale back on their charitable contributions.”

As for recurring challenges, Colgan points to awareness and education.

“In recent years, AIDS and HIV has become more ‘mainstream,’” he explained. “It is no longer just the ‘gay’ man’s disease. With all the advances in research and the many new drugs on the market, though it does not cure AIDS or HIV, it certainly has made the disease more manageable for many of those who are infected and they can lead relatively normal lives.

“With that said, many of the younger generation do not realize that AIDS is not curable and one can still die an early death with this disease and they are not taking the necessary precautions in practicing safe sex.”

Colgan said younger generations also aren’t supporting the cause as much. Without continued support, offering assistance to those newly infected gets more difficult, he said.

“We are now seeing an increase in the number of new cases being reported and if we don’t continue to keep an awareness by educating and informing the community we may very well see the epidemic that we had back in the early- to mid-1980s,” Colgan warned.

He added, “Giving back to the community and knowing that a little bit of hard work goes such a long way is really rewarding to me. At every event I am so pleased to see the number of people attend to support the cause.”

info: www.crapemyrtlefest.org

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.