Last winter, Ben Rabin shot down the hill at Four Seasons Golf and Ski Center in Fayetteville in a Harley Davidson motorcycle made of cardboard and duct tape in just 22.1 seconds.
Did he lose a dare, or is he just crazy?
Neither. The Syracuse attorney was part of a team competing in Sled for RED, an event that raises both funds and awareness for AIDS Community Resources. The Syracuse-based organization started the cardboard sled derby last year as an interesting and different way to draw attention to its mission to eradicate HIV/AIDS in Central New York. This year’s event will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21 at Four Seasons Golf and Ski Center in Fayetteville.
Rabin and members of his team, the Law Sharks, gathered at Buffalo Wild Wings in Cicero, one of Sled for RED’s sponsors, on Thursday, Jan. 12, to show off their sled, which won the derby last year and to talk about this year’s event.
“I think that there’s a lot of charity work in Upstate New York, but not enough attention is focused on this issue,” Rabin said. “It’s really the premiere fundraising tool for this organization, so we thought it would be good. Plus, it’s fun. There are a huge amount of choices for charities, so if you’re going to give to one, you might as well pick a fun event to do it.”
Rabin’s team, which also includes his friend John Hodges, also of Manlius, is entering a pickup truck design this year with cardboard donated by Empire State Cardboard. Last year’s motorcycle used 3,600 feet of duct tape and took more than two weeks of nights from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. to construct.
“All of our families get involved,” Hodges said. “It’s a team-building effort. All of our buddies come over. We work on it. The kids help.”
Rabin said that, between the two of them, he and Hodges have nine kids. That’s why they participate in this event.
“There’s a problem with kids thinking they’re bulletproof. That’s the scary thing,” Hodges said. “It’s a good way to put a face on AIDS awareness. You don’t have sick people, but it puts a face on the organization. And it’s a family event.”
Jacki Coe of AIDS Community Resources said the event began last year because the organization was looking for different ways to attract more money to its coffers.
“We cover nine counties, and you continually need to raise money as government funding goes down,” Coe said. “So we were looking for more interesting ways to raise money that kind of appeals to everyone. We do a tennis tournament, a Syracuse stage show, all kinds of things. There was another employee before I was there named Justin who said, ‘Hey, you know, there are places that do cardboard sledding derbies.’”
AIDS Community Resources reached out to Four Seasons, which agreed to sponsor the event. In addition to hosting the fundraiser, the golf and ski center offered $10 snow tubing to participants. Organizers also added beer, hot chocolate and food samplings. Coe said the event was more successful than she could have imagined.
“Our goal was $5,000, and we raised more than $9,000,” she said. “And it was really fun. All these people came out of nowhere last year in the middle of winter to play outside.”
This year’s event will include even more offerings. Wine samplings will also be offered, as will more food samplings. Sponsoring restaurants include Buffalo Wild Wings, Laci’s Tapas Bar and Starbucks; other sponsors are 95X, GreatBrewers.com, Quest Diagnostics and Syracuse Woman Magazine.
“It’s a really fun event,” Rabin said. “If you want to have a good time even without having to build a sled, come out. They have a band, they have great food, they have sampling, they have beer. It’s a neat thing to do.”
The main event, of course, is the cardboard sledding derby. Teams of up to five people are required to build a sled made of nothing more than cardboard, tape and paint. Teams must raise at least $250 to participate. In addition to the sledding derby — the “Daredevil” portion of the event — there are two other components to Sled for RED. One is There are three components to the Sled for RED. Other components are “The Adrenaline Junky,” in which participants can buy a $10 tubing pass, and “The Benchwarmer,” for those who prefer watching. For a $10 ticket they get to sample food and drinks in a heated tent while they watch the Syracuse University basketball game on a flat-screen television.
While it’s designed to give participants a good time, the main purpose of the event, of course, is to make people aware of the existence of AIDS Community Resources and to raise money for the organization. All money raised from the event stays within the nine-county radius served by the nonprofit, and the bulk of it goes to its youth programs.
“It goes to our youth HIV and STD prevention programs,” Coe said. “It’s kind of a touchy subject when you start talking about sexual education programs. People don’t know the stats, and they’re really, really frightening. I always tell people, ‘Listen, if you know the stats that I can give you off the top of my head, then you would want every teenager to be educated.’”
According to Coe, one in four of every teenage girl 15 to 19 has an STD. Onondaga County saw a huge spike in HIV cases among young men in 2011. Half of all sexually active young people will contract an STD by age 24, and 39 percent of new HIV cases are in people 29 and under.
Those statistics, Coe said, are why “we have to be out there and doing the prevention.”
Programs that will be funded by events like Sled for RED include the Q Center, the only LGBTQ program of its kind in an 80-mile radius, as well as the Teen AIDS Task Force, an education program that educates teens about HIV/AIDS and other STDs and sends them into high schools to educate their peers.
“Kids won’t listen to adults, but kids will listen to kids,” Coe said. “They go out and they teach, and they become the leadership in their schools, and they give them the right information. It’s not just about HIV and AIDS; it’s about STDs, HIV/AIDS, peer pressure, alcohol, drug use — all of the things that lead to someone making a poor decision that could lead to getting HIV/AIDS, pregnancy, drug abuse, things like that. We work on a full spectrum.”
So that programs like these can continue to be funded, Coe said she’s hopeful this year’s Sled for RED is even more successful than last year’s.
“We’re hoping for 500-plus,” she said.
Already, new supporters are coming out of the woodwork; Allen Emm of Bridgeport came to the registration night at Buffalo Wild Wings to sign up for the sledding derby after hearing about Sled for RED on 95X.
“Me and my buddy, we listen to the show on 95X and kept hearing about Sled for RED,” Emm said. “We heard [Jacki] on the radio and decided we’d try it out.”
Emm said he was drawn to the event because it sounded like a fun, different way to raise money for a worthy charity.
“I get to send my 11-year-old brother down this hill in a cardboard sled that we made,” he said. “That’s going to be a blast. And my big little brother gets to push him down it. I want him to go as fast as possible. If he gets a little scared and maybe crashes a little, as long as he doesn’t get hurt, it’s going to be a great time.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.