by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Every year, for the past nearly 30 years, Seattleites have participated in what has been known as the Seattle AIDS Walk. The walk would generally start and end at Volunteer Park - although some started at Memorial Stadium at Seattle Center and wended their way through Downtown Seattle or Myrtle Edwards Park many years ago. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of people would participate. There were guest speakers, moments of silence, reflecting on those we lost to the epidemic and calls for solidarity and a cure for those who are still fighting. Since its onset in the early 1980s HIV/AIDS has been a terrible part of our history and the walk was a way to show ourselves and the world that we were not going to fade away or die quietly and that we wanted a cure dammit! and we raised money year after year to support our brothers and sisters who were affected by HIV/AIDS as well as to fund education and prevention efforts. There were some powerful moments indeed.
The current AIDS Walk route is a 5K loop through Capitol Hill that is followed by an after party at Volunteer Park that includes music, snacks, and celebration. The cost to participate as a walker at the End AIDS Walk is free. Runners pay $35.
This year, Lifelong (formerly Lifelong AIDS Alliance), the organization that puts on Seattle's annual fundraising walk in support of people with HIV/AIDS, joined forces with Pierce County AIDS Foundation and Spokane AIDS Network to rename their largest fundraiser of the year. Previously known as the Seattle AIDS Walk, South Sound AIDS Walk, and the Spokane AIDS Walk, these events are now known as: End AIDS Walks.
The first End AIDS Walk took place September 26 at 9 a.m. at Volunteer Park. By all accounts the walk was a success.
'With a combined history of 68 walks spanning nearly 30 years, this collaboration is a new and innovative approach that brings the Seattle, South Sound, and Spokane regions together around a common goal - to raise funds for HIV prevention and care services and to build awareness that, by preventing new infections, an end to AIDS in Washington state is near,' said Lifelong officials.
Current rates of HIV infection in Washington have decreased slightly in recent years according to officials. Still, there are about 510 new cases each year and over 12,000 people estimated to be living with HIV.
'By providing resources and support for years to come, the launch of the End AIDS Walks will continue to be a testament to our unified effort to support those living with HIV/AIDS, reduce new infections, and end AIDS once and for all,' said Lifelong.
Lifelong relies on the generous support of individuals, corporations and foundations to fulfill their important mission. End AIDS Walk is a fundraiser as well as an important event to all who have been or currently are being affected by HIV/AIDS. Individuals are asked to recruit people to sponsor them during the walk; some people even put together whole teams and set out to raise money.
The first thing Lifelong asks participants to do is to set up a personal fundraising web page and send out e-mails to friends, family, and co-workers inviting them to sponsor them. Social media sites, say officials, are also a great way to connect with your personal network. They ask participants to create a Facebook event and include links to the personal fundraising page. In the future, Lifelong officials say they will also provide an online fundraising kit.
That money is then donated to the organization and a total is later calculated, which is then announced to the public so everyone knows how much was raised. It truly is a community effort and even high school students have become involved - often times raising more than $10,000 towards the cause. The event raises hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. Currently, the organization has not reported the full amount raised at the September 26 End AIDS Walk event.
Lifelong AIDS Alliance (now simply Lifelong) was formed in 2001 through the merger of Chicken Soup Brigade and Northwest AIDS Foundation. From its beginnings in 1983, when they passed a soup can around Volunteer Park and collected $42 to help people living with HIV/AIDS in the community, Lifelong has remained a leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS and continues to be a champion of healthy lives for all.
Today, 30 years later, their years of serving people with HIV/AIDS have provided them with the knowledge base to help others experiencing hunger and the spectrum of HIV illnesses.
'Our history is grounded in the support of the HIV/AIDS community and so is our future. As long as this disease is here, so are we,' say officials.
Lifelong believes the following:
o Food: For people living with HIV and other chronic illnesses, a nourishing meal can make a huge difference in the struggle for wellness. Our food program, Chicken Soup Brigade, provides nourishment to our clients through its grocery and meal program.
o Housing: When people have a safe place to live, they are less likely to transmit their infection to others. At Lifelong, we provide a variety of housing options to create stable living situations for our clients.
o Health: At Lifelong, we do whatever it takes to improve the lives of people living with chronic illnesses such as HIV/AIDS. We help them access health insurance so that they can get the care they need. We ensure that individuals have a safe place to live and food in their stomachs. Until there is a cure, preventing new HIV infections is our best hope. We distribute hundreds of thousands of condoms each year, along with safer-sex messages aimed at stopping new infections. We also counsel individuals to help reduce risky behaviors and offer prevention education programs and activities to promote and increase community awareness. And our caring case managers help people every step of the way.
It is important to note that decisions made in Olympia and Washington, D.C. have a profound effect upon people living with HIV/AIDS here in Seattle/King County. 'At Lifelong, we advocate for those living with HIV/AIDS to ensure that their voices are heard at the local, state and federal levels,' say officials.
If you are newly diagnosed or know someone who is, and are confused about where to find help, you are not alone. There are many ways Lifelong can help. Most people experience a mix of emotions including pain, confusion, fear, anger and loneliness. You do not have to face this disease alone. At Lifelong, they are here to help people living with HIV/AIDS get connected to services that can help optimize the outcomes of living with the disease. Visit them at www.llaa.org.
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