Kelsey Louie has been a health care advocate for most of his career and a runner for half his life. Soon, these two passions will converge, as he prepares to participate in several physical challenge fundraisers, including the 2013 Reykjavik, Iceland Half-Marathon later this month with Housing Works, and also the 2013 ING NYC Marathon this November with Team BRAKING AIDS™, benefiting a number of community-based AIDS organizations - Housing Works, Harlem United, and HELP/PSI.
An executive staff member at Harlem United, Kelsey will run on behalf of his organization, which is one of Housing Works’ greatest community partners and, like Housing Works, was also born out of the AIDS crisis in the early 90s. Along with other Team BRAKING AIDS™ participants with Harlem United, Housing Works, and our other community partner, HELP/PSI, these great fundraisers will provide quality health care to many more New Yorkers in need.
What’s your role at Harlem United, and how long have you been working there?
I am the Chief Program Officer at Harlem United, and I have been there for a little more than 6 years.
What initially attracted you to working at a community-based organization for individuals living with HIV/AIDS and others living with health disparities?
I started my social work career in substance abuse prevention, and moved onto mental health, child welfare, and LGBT services. HIV/AIDS and health care seemed like a natural progression for me. I have always been interested in all aspects of health - from fitness to access to quality health care for marginalized populations. At Harlem United, we see housing as health care, and six years ago as the VP of Housing, I was able to help establish that approach in our 586 units of supportive housing. I was able to treat people holistically, including their families, mental health issues, stigma they faced, etc., rather than just isolated conditions.
How long have you been running for?
I started running when I was 15. So, for 14 years. Just kidding [laughs]. It’s really been 23 years. I started running because my oldest brother ran track in high school, and I looked up to him and wanted to be just like him. I joined the Stuyvesant High School track team my sophomore year in high school.
There are so many great ways of giving back, and so many organizations to give to. What compelled you to sign-up for a half-marathon in Iceland with Housing Works, and now also the 2013 ING NYC Marathon this November with Team BRAKING AIDS™, benefiting Housing Works, Harlem United, and HELP/PSI?
I want to be a team player. I want to lead by example, and I hope that others will demonstrate teamwork and collaboration in their own way. I want to support the Development team. As a member of the Executive team, I want to support as many of the endeavors of my colleagues as possible. I am not a great cyclist, but I plan to be on the crew for BRAKING AIDS™ Ride as well. I plan to attend as many graduations, fundraisers, talent shows, art shows, etc. as I possibly can to show my support.
Why is it important for you to work with like-minded organizations like Housing Works in this way?
At the end of the day, we are all on the same side, fighting the same fight, running the same race. I understand the struggles of budget cuts, limited resources, and strict parameters of funding we receive, while trying to maintain high-quality services for the most vulnerable groups of people. Just like when running a half-marathon or marathon, it helps if you run with others - it helps doing this challenging work with others.
How are you currently training for these events while doing such hard work at Harlem United too? How do you create a balance?
It’s not easy. It requires discipline. But so do so many other things we do. Sometimes I multi-task. When I run, I usually solve many of the problems and dilemmas I face throughout the day, and it’s therapeutic. When you are a runner, it has to become part of your way of life. Once you commit to it, you have to find the time - just like I find the time to eat everyday, I find the time to run. And I don’t sleep [laughs].
How will your running help support individuals in need, in NYC?
There are so many important elements of providing high-quality health care and supportive services that are not typically funded, like continuous quality improvement, training, and advocacy, just to name a few. Also, there are some programs that are not adequately funded, like Voc Ed Services and Food & Nutrition Services. I hope that some of these dollars will be directed to areas such as these.
In addition, we are all bringing awareness of the issues our clients face - HIV/AIDS, homelessness, mental illness, substance use, and health disparities - to a wider audience. And I would like to think that we are helping to create a culture of giving back among our friends and acquaintances. I hope that somebody who donates to me this year, will either donate more next year, or even decide to fundraise for a cause that is important to them next year.
What advice would you give to new runners who are set on completing a half-marathon or marathon?
I would say: 1) Do your long runs - marathon and half-marathon performance is usually a product of your preparation. 2) Set a realistic goal. 3) Be smart - don’t start out too fast. It’s the most common mistake. Stick to the game plan. 4) Be tough - don’t allow negative self-talk to creep in during the race. 5) Be cute - there will be many, many spectators, with cameras [laughs].
There will be thousands of reasons to stop training or to stop running during the race, but you only need one reason to keep going. Find that reason before you get to the start line. This year with Team BRAKING AIDS™, it will be clients in the Job Training Program - clients who will transition to full-time employment by committing to months of training.
How’s your fundraising going? What are ways that folks can sponsor you?
I am trying to raise a total of $8,000 ($1,500 for the half-marathon in Iceland, $3,500 for the Ride, and $3,000 for the NYC Marathon). You can support my run in Iceland by donating. I recently broke the $3,000 mark!
What drives you at the end of the day? What invigorates you and keeps you focused and disciplined?
Ultimately, helping others less fortunate than myself is my motivation. Nowadays, I impact the clients we serve by ensuring that staff are well-trained and have the resources and tools to provide high-quality services. I enjoy seeing somebody respond to training, whether it’s clinical training, managerial training, or training for a marathon.
I love seeing people gain confidence and attempting to do great things - and achieving great things. I love being a part of that growth and that process.blog comments powered by Disqus