Centennial, Colorado—Claudia Svarstad and Beckie Harkey of Tucson, Arizona and Denver, Colorado, have been selected to receive the Center for Health and Hope’s 2020 Leadership Award for their extraordinary volunteer service in Tucson, Denver, and around the globe.
The award will be presented during the annual Swinging@AIDS benefit concert on March 20, 2020. “Their inclusive love of humanity is infectious,” stated the Rev. Dr. Donald E. Messer, Executive Director of the Center for Health and Hope. “Through Beckie and Claudia, people connect with a vision of humanitarian service that knows no discrimination and abounds with compassion.”
Scott Blades, Executive Director of the Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network (TIHAN), commented, “Beckie and Claudia have a long history of advocacy and support for people with HIV, and we are so fortunate that they’ve continued those efforts here locally since they moved to Tucson. They have such a heart for giving, and we’re so happy to help celebrate their impact.”
Beckie Harkey (pictured above, left) and Claudia Svarstad (pictured above, right) met in Denver 42 years ago as they were both working in the insurance industry. They were married in 2015.
For the past 15 years, three matters have been constants in their lives, intertwined in various ways: community, golf, and HIV/AIDS. Svarstad’s concern about hunger issues led her to a book about world hunger, which she discovered was written by a fellow Denver resident, the president of nearby Iliff School of Theology. Moved by those writings of Rev. Dr. Donald Messer, Svarstad set out to meet him and become engaged in the work. In addition to his leadership on hunger issues, Rev. Messer was also a leader in the global effort to address the growing AIDS crisis. Within a year of their initial meeting, Svarstad joined a mission trip to India through Dr. Messer’s non-governmental organization, the Center for Health and Hope.
“Seeing women with AIDS, abandoned in front of a hospital that would not accept them, was a profound experience for me,” Svarstad shared. “When I returned to the US, I couldn’t erase that memory of discrimination and suffering from my mind. I knew that people with AIDS locally and globally faced stigma and isolation, but it seemed overwhelming, and I wasn’t sure what to do. And then I remembered a saying: ‘When you don’t know what to do next, just do the thing in front of you.’”
Filled with passion and a desire to make a difference to support people with HIV, Svarstad recalls looking around and noticing what was often in front of her: a golf ball. Golf was among their favorite activities. One of the factors for their career success in the insurance industry was Svarstad and Harkey’s love of golf and the relationships they built with their work colleagues on the golf course. Exploring how to make a difference in the lives of people with HIV, they proposed a golf tournament to benefit the Center’s programs and services.
Their first “Swinging@AIDS” golf tournament in Denver raised $10,000, and became an annual tradition that grew and thrived. When Svarstad and Harkey moved to Tucson in 2013 to spend part of the year here, they also brought their passion for golf tournament fundraisers for HIV, and connected with the work of the Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network, which would become a partner with the Center on a Tucson-based golf tournament and concert, jointly benefiting the programs and services of TIHAN and Center-supported programs for children impacted by HIV in Kenya.
This year, the Center will hold its 25th golf tournament benefit. These events have now raised more than $600,000 for HIV support services in the US and in Kenya. In Tucson, the Swinging@AIDS golf tournaments and concerts have raised over $90,000 to benefit programs supporting people with HIV in Tucson and orphans in Kenya.
“Participating in a benefit—whether it’s a golf tournament or a concert—can open people’s eyes and introduce them to challenges and opportunities, to injustices and ways to get involved and make a difference,” Svarstad related. “Whether it’s women in India, children in Kenya, or gay men here in the US, everyone with HIV deserves to have love and support.”
“Through our involvement first with the Center for Health and Hope, and now also with TIHAN, we have met so many incredible people with a passion to help address the stigma of AIDS and help build support networks for our neighbors in need,” Harkey shared. “Both Claudia and I have had our share of experiences of seeing discrimination–whether based on gender, race, sexual orientation, HIV status, poverty. We’ve also experienced how our hearts can be touched and how deeply people can care for each other. We have been fortunate to have the opportunity to be able to give back and help others see how they can make a difference in simple yet impactful ways.”
After leading 20 golf tournament benefits in Colorado and Tucson, Svarstad and Harkey have turned over leadership, but they continue volunteering and supporting the efforts of new leaders. Their gratitude overflows. “We are deeply, deeply grateful to our family, friends from Tucson and Denver, our Women’s Golf League at The Views, and the co-chairs, volunteers, staff, and board at TIHAN and the Center,” said Svarstad. “Without all of these folks, nothing would have happened.”
The Center for Health and Hope and TIHAN will recognize the couple’s contributions with the 2020 Leadership Award, to be presented at the annual Swinging@AIDS benefit concert. Featuring the award-winning Heather “Lil’ Mama” Hardy Band, the concert will take place on Friday, March 20 at 7pm at Monterey Court. Tickets for the benefit concert are $20, and sponsorships range from $50 to $1,500. Tickets available through www.eventbrite.com (search for “TIHAN concert”). Generous donors have pledged to contribute matching funds for all that the concert raises, up to $10,000. All proceeds benefit the HIV support programs of TIHAN and the Center for Health and Hope.
Past recipients of the Center’s Leadership Award include Rev Charlie Arehart, Kevin Carmichael MD, Linda Girard RN, and Jon Stetson and Noel Floresca.
ABOUT THE SPONSORING ORGANIZATIONS
The Center for Health and Hope (www.centerforhealthandhope.org), based in Denver, addresses the challenges of the global HIV and AIDS pandemic and related health needs in the world through programs of awareness, education, prevention, care, and treatment. The Center challenges attitudes and actions that contribute to stigmatization and discrimination of persons infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. For more information, contact Executive Director Rev. Dr. Don Messer (303) 877-1955 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Since 1994, TIHAN–the Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network (www.tihan.org), has been organizing volunteers, businesses, organizations, and faith communities to respond to the HIV/AIDS health crisis. In addition to HIV awareness and stigma reduction programs, TIHAN helps support people with HIV to live as well as possible. For more information, contact Executive Director Scott Blades at (520) 299-6647 ext 202 or email@example.com