By Diana Coe
DeeDee Haberle, bright-eyed and stylish in black leggings and cropped blonde hair, gestures excitedly as she shares her experiences as a designer for the Red Ribbon Runway, a major fundraising event for AIDS Care Service (ACS) of Winston-Salem. DeeDee has been a professional seamstress who, with long-distance business partner Joyce Spaulding, ran a children’s clothing company called The Girls Collection. This February 28th will mark Red Ribbon Runway’s sixth year, and the fifth time that Haberle’s granddaughter, Paige Perez, 11, will model her design.
Haberle became aware of AIDS early in the history of the epidemic. She lost two friends to AIDS-related complications and says, “Back then we hadn’t made the strides we have today. It was pretty much a death sentence. Both friends were terminal and were isolated, rejected, and misunderstood. No one should have to leave this world being misunderstood by those they love.” DeeDee is no stranger to illness. At 70 she is a five-year cancer survivor and, just prior to last year’s Red Ribbon Runway, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. But you can’t keep DeeDee down, as she proudly boasts, “I can still thread a needle!” Not only did she complete her design, but she immediately made plans to participate in the 2015 show as well. “Each year I’ve tried to design to embody the message. One year I painted names on my garment to represent those who have been lost to this disease. The stigma exists. It lies within … and out there. How do you break that barrier?”
Through Red Ribbon Runway, AIDS Care Service aims to do just that by holding the most creative fashion show in the Triad. Each year local designers are given three plain t-shirts donated by Hanesbrands, Inc. They are tasked with deconstructing those t-shirts and reconstructing them into an entirely different garment. They are also allowed $20 worth of new notions and any repurposed items, although past winners have focused on the t-shirts.
Last year it was evident that Red Ribbon Runway had outgrown its customary venue, so it was moved to the larger Wake Forest Biotech Place for the 2015 event. The highlight of the evening is, arguably, the work of the designers and the models on the runway, but it also includes food, a silent auction, raffle prizes, and dancing. All proceeds go directly to ACS, where they are used to assist HIV+ clients in Forsyth County and surrounding areas with housing (ACS provides residential medical care for clients in crisis at the Holly Haven home, as well as independent transitional living and permanent housing assistance), job referrals, medical assistance, peer groups, a choice food pantry, and more. Client volunteers are a crucial part of the Red Ribbon Runway experience.
One of those volunteers, Angela, was a Holly Haven resident during a low point in her illness in 2005. Last year, however, she could be found serving drinks at Red Ribbon Runway. Angela, 55, understands the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, but believes that events like this one allow many to be involved and to see what ACS and the HIV community can do. She says it makes her feel good to see the number of people who show up for Red Ribbon Runway—she sees that they care about the HIV/AIDS community. Angela works as a volunteer every week at the food pantry and is looking forward to participating at the Red Ribbon Runway once again: “Every time I get to volunteer, it makes me feel like I’m giving back,” she says. “Everything I am, I owe to ACS. They literally saved my life. If they can use me, I’m there.”
Red Ribbon Runway will be held February 28, 2015 at 8pm at the Wake Forest Biotech Center. Tickets start at $25 and will go on sale February 14. Interested designers can find more information on our website at www.aidscareservice.org.