“We have a real focus on education and particularly we’ve been doing a lot of education in schools over the past couple of years, teaching in the high schools and middle schools basic informational classes about HIV and prevention,” said Lola Thomas, executive director for the AIDS Alliance. “So we have a focus with that on youth so that [ties in] the painting the town red [theme].
“We’re just trying to encourage everyone to realize the importance of HIV prevention. It’s all about knowing the facts, knowing how to prevent contracting HIV. So we’re just encouraging folks to be more aware of HIV prevention.”
The 2.1-mile walk on April 27 will start at 11 a.m., with registration getting under way at Friendship Plaza in downtown Cartersville at 10 a.m. By visiting www.aanwg.org, participants can sign up in advance for $20 for individuals 13 and older and $10 for youths 12 and younger. The cost to enter increases on the day of the event by $5.
Proceeds from the AIDS Walk — entry fees and donations generated by participants prior to the event — will help the nonprofit maintain its current level of services, some of which include transportation for clients, support groups, and prevention and housing programs. Based in Cartersville, the AIDS Alliance assists 110 HIV/AIDS clients, ranging in age from 14 to the mid-70s, in 10 northwest Georgia counties.
Last year’s event drew about 100 participants and raised around $5,000. If its goal of raising $10,000 this year is met, the AIDS Alliance will be a step closer to its overall mission of increasing local funding — donations and benefits — to 10 percent of its annual budget.
“[The funds] will go to help us purchase prevention materials, HIV testing materials. So it will go toward helping us be able to do HIV prevention in the community,” Thomas said. “As we know, there is no cure for HIV. Once you have it, you have it and though there are promising stories about progress that’s been made related to a cure or vaccines, that sort of thing, as of now there is no cure. So once you have it, you always have it. ... It’s lifelong and [it] can be prevented. That’s the reason we try to get the word out.
“Everyone should know their HIV status. That’s recommended by the Centers for Disease Control that all people should know their HIV status. So that means HIV testing because you can’t know whether you have it or not unless you get the test. So getting tested is absolutely crucial not only so that if you are infected you can get into treatment, which could then save your life of course, but also knowing your status so that if you were to be infected you would not be spreading it to other people. So [it is] tremendously important for people to get tested for HIV.”
For Mandy Wilson — an AIDS Alliance board member — the AIDS Walk will serve as an awareness tool, enabling the community to unite around the nonprofit and its cause.
“I think what I enjoy most is seeing the community come together and to support it and it’s fun to do too,” Wilson said. “One thing I really want the community to know is that [the AIDS Alliance is] here because I think a lot of people don’t know.
“So awareness of the agency itself is good. And then the fact that our agency provides education for anyone who’s been diagnosed or even if their status is negative, then still they can come and learn how to prevent — the prevention education is just invaluable.”
For more information about the AIDS Alliance or its upcoming event, visit www.aanwg.org or call 770-606-0953.