Our Stories

Team Werq: Mike Dreyden and Candy Samples

Team Werq: Mike Dreyden and Candy Samples

Mike Dreyden photo by Mike Ruiz

Each September hundreds of bicyclists, or as we here at Housing Works call them, endurance activists, ride 285 miles from Boston to NYC as part of BRAKING AIDS® Ride. Though the three day ride is fully supported by staff and crew, it requires a level of commitment above and beyond a typical donation. The riders and crew form teams – really quasi families – who train and fundraise together all in the fight to end AIDS and homelessness. One such family is Candy Samples and Mike Dreyden who are fundraising together to support the Ride and to promote PrEP awareness. Housing Works will highlight supporters like these in our Community Stories.

This month we caught up with Mike Dreyden and Candy Samples, two public figures advocating for HIV/AIDS and participating in the Ride next month. You may recognize Mike from Housing Works’ PrEP Heroes project and Candy from her numerous drag appearances and theatre shows (see more at Mike Dreyden is also a guest star as Cliff in season three of the hot new web series Child of the 70s by Michael Vacarro, Steve in Todd Verow’s indie film Available Light, and his upcoming web series LAST CALL.

Housing Works: Names, locations, and occupations, please
Candy Samples: Will Harrell aka Candy Samples, Astoria NY, Singer/Songwriter & Drag Superstar
Mike Dreyden: Mike Dreyden, Actor, Writer, Producer, former porn performer.

HW: You both are public figures and performers. How have your public personas influenced your AIDS-activism?
CS: I’ve been performing in drag as Candy for 20 years. Before that, HIV/AIDS came into my life when my father, a hemophiliac contracted the virus through his multiple transfusions. Times weren’t like they are now and he passed away in 1991. Coming out as a gay man, and Queen, it seemed quite natural to continue the discussion and do what I could to help raise awareness and end the stigma attached to HIV. You do not have to have the virus to have it affect you. It affects all of us, and we as a global community need to do all we can to help stop it and show our love and support.
MD: As a former porn performer, I was at the forefront of the condom issue facing the industry a few years ago. I think I became a voice for knowledge and guidance for safer sex standards to some extent. I also donated my time to many free testing sites around the NYC area where fans could come meet me, take pics, get autographs and of course get STD screenings. I would sit with the more nervous guys while they waited for their results. I think it helped them to stay calm.

HW: How did you learn about the Ride? How long have you been participating?
CS: I was referred to the ride last year by another rider. We actually had a small CandyWrappers team and I was the mascot. I was on the crew, while my other teammates got on their bikes and did the entire 285 miles! It was a glorious experience, to be able to cheer them on. This year will be my second year on the crew and I’m looking forward to cheering all the riders on and refreshing them at the Oasis stops!
MD: This is a great story I’m excited to share. I first was involved with the ride back when I was a receptionist in the main office at the LGBT Community Center. The Center was one of the first beneficiaries of [The Northeast AIDS Ride, produced by Pallotta TeamWorks], supporting the Mental Health/Social Services department and the numerous HIV/AIDS programs offered. Back then I really couldn’t do the ride but wished one day I would. Fast forward 17/18 years, my friend Jack Mackenroth rings me up and says, hey Queen, you wanna do this project? He was talking about the PrEP Heroes campaign and knew that I am on PrEP. It wasn’t a request really. LOL! I love Jack and would do anything for/with him. When he said Mike Ruiz, another good friend, was shooting the campaign, I of course said yes. I thought that would be the end of it and we’d use our faces, bodies, names to advocate this important medication, especially for men of color. But, no, that wasn’t the end. I received an email from Housing Works asking if I would be interested in participating in the ride. I had to read that email three times before I could answer. This is an HONOR!

HW: What does participating in the Ride mean to you?
CS: Being a part of the BRAKING AIDS® Ride gives me life! For so many years I was angry that HIV had taken my father away from me. I felt very helpless. After I began participating in fundraising and public service activities, I began to feel more empowered —- like I could do something to help someone else. Being a small part of this ride is just wonderful. There is a real energy and passion that comes from the riders and crew, and for once we get to celebrate. We all have loss, we all have frustration, but for this weekend we get to channel that energy into something greater than us. We WILL End AIDS by 2020 and I’m proud to be one small part of the plan! *MD: What does this means to me? It means more than words could possibly express. It’s a full circle moment for me, with regard to the ride. I have been training on a stationary bike at the gym until I get access to a loaner bike at the end of August, then I will be riding around Manhattan and Brooklyn in “PrEParation” for the event. I am honored. I am humbled. And, I am happier than you can imagine. This ride has done so much good for so many people. I couldn’t thank everyone enough for their support and generosity. To my family, friends and fans from Boston to New York City, come on out and show your love! I look forward to seeing you at the starting line, along the ride and at the finish line.

Learn more about BRAKING AIDS® Ride here. You can support the Ride by donating to our Riders and Crew here. For more information, contact Blake Strasser at or 212-989-1111.

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