Walk to help area families affected by AIDS

Thousands of Americans live with HIV/AIDS and its effects every day.

This holiday season, 150 southern Illinois families affected by this disease will receive support through the Southern Illinois AIDS Walk. The fifth annual walk will take place at 6 p.m. Nov. 29, starting at the Student Health Center. Event coordinators will meet Oct. 24 to discuss how Registered Student Organizations, departments and other groups on campus can get involved in the event.

“We are trying to mobilize campus,” said Wally Paynter, founder of the event. “We are looking for people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and help.”

The walk is on World AIDS Day and aims to benefit low-income families struggling with the disease who are clients of Illinois HIV Care Connect.

“Our lofty goal would be $15,000,” Paynter said. “That way, we could supply $100 to each household.”

All proceeds raised will be distributed evenly as grocery gift cards to the families with at least one household member affected by the disease.

“Our goal is to figure out how to get community members involved in the walk,” said Benjamin Warren, a senior from Bloomington studying recreation and helping organize the event. “We need to continue to grow as an event.”

Student Wellness Center Representatives are organizing an event day to kick off the walk as well, where students can get free testing for sexually transmitted infections from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the center.

“We are trying to make testing more available to more students by taking testing to them,” said Sarah Steinkamp, Wellness Center coordinator. “Our hope is to increase the number of students who know their status, educate students on the importance of testing and help students get the medical attention they need if they are positive.”

Steinkamp said she hopes the wide range of events will encourage AIDS education and understanding in different ways.

Warren said he got involved in the walk because his four siblings who were adopted from Ethiopia had parents who died from AIDs.

“Knowing the stresses it puts on a family, especially those of low income families, it’s important not only to raise awareness but to help financially when we can,” he said.

Jason Gillman, assistant director of student health services, will speak about HIV prevention at the event. The film, “Endgame: Ending AIDS in Black America,” will show as well.

Any student or community group, RSO or individual can register for the free AIDS walk. Teams that register more than two weeks before the event will have their names printed on the event T-shirts.

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