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Cynthia Reeves | SBJ

2022 Men of the Year: Wade Shelton

AIDS Project of the Ozarks

Posted online

In his role as community development coordinator for AIDS Project of the Ozarks, Wade Shelton raises awareness for a disease that has claimed over 40 million lives, according to the World Health Organization.

In 2021, as the culmination of two years of planning, APO brought a portion of the National AIDS Memorial Quilt to Springfield for a five-day exhibit beginning on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1. Some 250 panels listed over 1,000 names of people who died of AIDS or complications related to AIDS, including local men, women and children.

Shelton says the project represented the reason for APO’s existence.

“It allowed me and others to have those conversations with guests of the exhibit on what we do at APO – who we serve, why we serve,” he says. “But this project also allowed me to listen, something I believe is part of leadership.”

Shelton says he heard stories from bereaved parents and partners, and from children whose parent or parents died from AIDS.

“By listening to their stories, it’s allowed me to be able to share why APO is relevant still and why every day we come to work at APO to fight for those who deserve to have quality health care,” he says.

When the COVID-19 pandemic threatened APO’s largest annual fundraiser, the Red Ribbon Ride, in 2020, Shelton put his creativity to work to establish what he called the “Ish Ride,” a virtual version.

Shelton and his colleagues transformed APO’s large conference room into a TV studio, with a large screen serving as a virtual backdrop of the 50-mile route. A volunteer had biked the route with a camera on his helmet to record it from the vantage point of a rider. On the day of the event, Shelton and two other riders took to stationary bikes in front of a screen depicting the route for three hours and talked nonstop about APO and its services, just like in a classic telethon.

By the end of the event, APO had pulled in just under $20,000.

“It was truly something that, even in all of my brainstorming and planning and hoping, I never expected,” he says. “I never would have believed you if you’d told me we would do that well. Without a doubt, this is probably my most proud professional moment at APO.”

For the last three years, Shelton served on the executive committee for the local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and helped to organize the annual National Philanthropy Day luncheon each fall. He plans to become a certified fundraising executive through CFRP International to demonstrate his commitment to the fundraising profession.

He says he is also passionate about the LGBTQ community, which he is part of, and he wants its members to know that they are part of the community in every way.

Shelton says he grew up being bullied in school because he was gay.

“I want them to know that even if they are not at a point in their life to feel safe in coming out, if and when they do, there is a community here to show the pride we have in them,” he says. 

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