The third annual Love Walk will be from 7 to 9 a.m. this Saturday, Sept. 14, at the Phoenix Zoo.

Families and individuals are invited to either walk the perimeter of the zoo twice (5K) or opt for an enjoyable 1.5-mile walk inside the zoo grounds, leisurely watching the animals wake up before the zoo gates open to the general public. Donations allow participants all-day access and will support charities serving poor and at-risk populations, locally and internationally.

Founder Darla Gonzalez is a local humanitarian, office administrator and mother of two. This event is important to Gonzalez, who said, “I have a passion for touching the lives of those living in poverty and despair — right here in our state, and also around the world. So each year I choose a local organization, and an international one to benefit, and ask others to literally walk alongside me. Taking small steps, we can promote the message that love binds us all together.”

According to Gonzalez, there are about 150 people who have donated to participate in this year’s event, as well as 100 volunteers, which is an increase from the previous year.

The increase in volunteers was welcome news for Gonzalez.

“The event is a great opportunity to connect people with causes they are passionate about,” she said.

Organizations and individuals interested in sponsoring the event, or volunteering on the day of the event can direct inquiries to Michelle Housman at, or by calling (480) 567-6407.

According to Gonzalez, the money raised for the event will go to the Phoenix Dream Center and Mission Africa, which is also sponsoring the event this year. Gonzalez likes to include both one global and one local nonprofit as benefactors of the Love Walk each year because she believes people can make a difference locally as well as around the world.

Mission Africa is a local nonprofit ministry led by Victor Jakpor, a native of impoverished Sapele, Nigeria. The organization focuses on improving education, sanitation and clean drinking water in Sapele. Past proceeds have made a real difference for youth in this country.

“There was a 30 percent increase in school enrollment last year due to new textbooks,” said Gonzalez. “They raised 15,000 dollars for 200 textbooks.”

The Phoenix Dream Center has been involved with the Love Walk every year of its existence, according to Gonzalez.

According to its website, the Phoenix Dream Center is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization, founded in 2006, that focuses on providing resources, opportunities and supportive services to homeless, low-income and struggling families across the Valley. The organization also provides shelter and care for victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking. Locally, the center serves some 40,000 people in need each month.

“I believe deep down we all want to help people,” said Gonzalez. “Sometimes we just aren’t sure how best to do it.”

If you would like to walk alongside Gonzalez to support people in need, while having a good time at the zoo, visit Registration is $25 for adults, $10 for kids ages 3-17. Children under 3 are free. Participants who have not registered should plan to arrive at the zoo by 6:30 a.m. on the day of the event.

To learn more about Mission Africa and Phoenix Dream Center, visit and

• Jeremy Bush is a senior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is interning this semester for the AFN.

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