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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Ellen DeGeneres invited to join Ride for AIDS
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2011-03-09

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There was the incredible buzz and notoriety for the Facebook page to help get Betty White to host Saturday Night Live and, ultimately, the golden girl got the gig.

Then there was the invitation last summer from the Chicago Gay Hockey Association ( CGHA ) to the Chicago Blackhawks and the Stanley Cup, and the cup eventually rode on the CGHA's float in the annual Gay Pride Parade, along with Brent Sopel, a member of the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks who now plays for Montreal.

Ellen DeGeneres is the latest target of a wacky publicity stunt—courtesy of Michael Ross Steffen, 24, the co-owner of B.j. ProMos, an event planning company, who also works as a bartender at Little Jim's Tavern and at Parlour On Clark Street.

Steffen is inviting DeGeneres to join his team this summer in the annual Ride for AIDS, the two-day, 200-mile round-trip ride from Chicago to Lake Geneva, Wis.

"It started as a joke between me and my best friend/co-owner of B.j. ProMos, spawning off of Betty White," Steffen admitted. "But then we started wondering what if it actually happened. ... We got really excited and started bombarding our friends with invites to the [ Facebook ] fan page. We figured, since this was for a charity, we might be able to pull it off.

"We both have bartended in the community for a while and have a lot of contacts. We rely on the people who are close to us to help us as much as possible and to support us with our events and campaigns. Most of them know how big of a deal this charity is for us."

Steffen has sent e-mails to her show, telling what he is doing—and he's going to keep doing it.

"I am going to try the Shawshank method and start doing it once a week in hopes that it will convince them to at least read it all the way through," Steffen said. "The publicity alone, [ just from inviting her, ] would be a great help not only for our [ fund-raising ] team, but for the cause itself. There are still a lot of people who are very ignorant to HIV/AIDS education and the affects it is having on the community."

Why DeGeneres? She is Steffens and his friend's favorite talk-show host.

"I have been a fan ever since the first time I went to Disney's Epcot, where she is a host on the Ride Horizons with Bill Nye The Science Guy," Steffen said. "She seems like, even in reality, she would be such a fun person to be around and we have dreamed about just going out on the town with her and seeing what trouble we would get in."

Steffen said he think there is a good chance she might participate, "if we can make a big stink about it."

That means a lot of Likes.

"I feel, if Ellen herself happens to hear about it, it will be hard for her to resist doing something for us," Steffen said. "Honestly, I'm not sure how I will take it if she says OK. I will probably get so nervous that I stop eating for a week to lose a few pounds and then start training my butt off, so I don't make a fool of myself on national TV."

The annual Ride For AIDS is July 9-10, produced by the Test Positive Aware Network to raise funds for the organization and community partners.

This is Steffen's second Ride for AIDS. Last year's journey was "tough," he said. "I completely forgot to find hills to do some training on and the minute we left flat plains, I was about dead."

Last year, Steffens' team raised more than $5,000 on the ride. This year's team, B.j. ProMos, is aiming to raise $10,000.

"I was in between jobs last year and didn't feel I was able to concentrate as much as I could for the rides, so I'm trying to make it up this year," Steffen said. "My dad is an amazing rider, far better than me. I know, if I tell him I want to be able to finish before him, he will end up just letting me, but essentially that is the goal, not to mention getting my mother to do it with us as well.

"I have been HIV-positive for about three years now. The first people I was able to tell [ about being positive ] were the guy who lived above me who is now a good friend even though at the time we barely knew each other, and my parents. They have always been so supportive of the things I do in life and I can't help but feel like I have let them down in one form or another.

"Doing this ride, riding in general, something that they have been doing all their lives and doing their best to get me to ride and stay healthy, is my attempt to make up for the disappointment that I might have caused them."

To learn more, or Like their cause, go to www.facebook.com/pages/Ellen-should-do-the-Ride-For-AIDS-Chicago-2011/171663812881037.


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