Raising money, seeking romance

Blind date event for HIV/AIDS

April 22, 2006|By BRENT JONES | BRENT JONES,SUN REPORTER

For Lewis Okafor, approaching a stranger, striking up a conversation and being part of an unconventional blind date surrounded by hundreds proved to be rather easy.

"I'm a people person," the Johns Hopkins University freshman said.

Good thing for his date, Laura Perazzoli, a fellow freshman. Awkward silences and stares off into space were nonexistent, and both agreed that their date, after 30 minutes at least, was a success. The students, wearing cardboard No. 13's around their respective necks, were part of an attempt last night to break the Guinness Book of World Records mark for most simultaneous blind dates. The event, held in a gymnasium on Johns Hopkins' campus, raised $1,500 for HIV-positive and AIDS-afflicted children in Baltimore.

Vision Xchange, a service organization on the Hopkins campus, sponsored the fundraiser and hoped to rally 600 students. But a steady downpour, combined with a shift from the baseball field to the gym, left organizers about 300 short of their goal.

The previous record was set in July when 536 people (268 couples) met at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Guinness' rules mandate all blind dates last at least an hour.

For David Dittrell, a senior who paid the $5 admissions fee and said he heard about the event through a friend, simply finding his date proved to be a task.

Dittrell, sporting a basketball jersey, jeans and white shoes, wandered around the gym with his No. 2 cardboard sign in tow, searching for his counterpart. "I walked around, holding up my sign, but nobody wanted to claim me," he said with a laugh.

Before long, Dittrell made his way back to the bleachers, home for the first half-hour to most participants.

In a scene that could have rivaled a middle-school homecoming dance, with balloons and a punchbowl to boot, the men primarily stayed on one side of the room while the women mingled among themselves on the other side shortly after the doors opened.

But then the music began to blare, friends spotted each other, people danced and personalities started to come out.

"I really didn't want to be part of Guinness. I just wanted a blind date," said freshman Pierre Islam.

Although no representatives from Guinness were there, attendees were asked to register before entering the gym and had to sign a letter stating they indeed were on a date the requisite time before leaving.

Vision Xchange is a startup organization whose goal is to increase campus activism among students while emulating the mission and programs of the Red Cross. Most of the group's 15 members staffed the tables and helped facilitate the dates.

"For some of the members, they see this as a success or failure only if the record is broken," said co-coordinator Salmah Rizvi. "But if people know about the cause, then it's a success in my eyes."

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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