It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood for AIDS Walk Detroit

Annual Walk Keeps Pace with Last Year's Numbers

BY JASON A. MICHAEL

Summer proved it has yet to sing its final note as the 26th annual AIDS Walk Detroit took place Sunday under a cloudless sky with temperatures hovering at just below 80 degrees. Walkers expecting crisper weather had to take off their jackets and hoodies and discard them if not before the walk than during.

"The weather was awesome," said Carissa Rys, development coordinator for AIDS Walk Detroit. "We couldn't have asked for nicer weather. We've actually been really lucky these past few years. We haven't had rain, we've had sunshine, and this year continued that trend for us. It was a great weekend all around."

As numbers continue to come in, Rys estimated about 1,200 walkers took to the streets of Royal Oak this year and that about $125,000 had been raised so far with more monies expected to come in before collection ends. These numbers are almost identical to last year's walk and organizers said they were happy with them.

"I feel like it was a great day," said Rys. "We were able to reach some new people. We've been able to continue the excitement around our walk and just continue building awareness. And we've really been able to continue doing what we're here for and to help the organizations that we help. We're definitely going to be able to make some good donations to our partner organizations and give back to them."

Giving back appeared to be the theme of the day for many who took place in the walk. "One of my biggest things about the community is I wanted us to be a give back," said Randall Wrisinger, director of the PRISM Chorus. "It's not just about us, even though we're a 501c3 organization, I wanted us to have opportunities to be able to give back to the community at large and this is very important."

The PRISM team, which was led by member John Joanette, consisted of 29 members. "Our goal was 25 people and $2,500 and we have 29 people walking who raised over $6,000," Joanette said. "HIV isn't over with and it's important to get that message out."

Important, yes, but sometimes more difficult these days Joanette admitted. "We had so many allies helping us in the early days when people were really dying," he said. "Now the messaging is a little bit harder because for most people it's a manageable chronic disease. But people are still perishing from HIV. Drugs don't work for everyone. There's about 10 percent that continue to have a health decline. We need to make sure that we're not only here for them but to make sure that the transmission rate continues to go down and that there are services available to educate and treat."

Scott Robin works for Delta Airlines, one of the walk's premium sponsors. While he has walked for the past four or five years, this year he was captain of his team. "Our team this year is probably about 15 people and we're made up of agents at the airport, flight attendants and mechanics all based in Detroit," Robin said. "I've had friends who have lost their lives. So it's a way for me to kind of memorialize them, remember them and give back."

Jay Kaplan, who has participated in every AIDS Walk Detroit since its inception in 1991, agreed.

"We should never forget," said Kaplan. "It's amazing what has happened in the area of HIV health care. But all those people whose lives were lost we have to remember them and the importance of supporting funding for programs. And we still have to remove the stigma that is associated with AIDS."

In contrast to Kaplan, this was the first time Daniel Jones ever participated in the walk.

He decided to walk after seeing a friend's post on Facebook about it.

"I am not HIV positive but I know people who are," he said. "My uncle passed away while I was still in college. So it's important that we educate ourselves. I hope this walk brings awareness and just brings us closer to finding a cure."

To date, AIDS Walk Detroit has granted nearly $4 million to 25 area agencies. This year's partner organizations include Affirmations Community Center, Community Health Awareness Group, Children's Hospital Michigan/Horizon's Project, Deaf CAN, Henry Ford Health System, Health Emergency Lifeline Programs, Southeast Michigan HIV/AIDS Council (SEMHAC)/STAR Foundation, UNIFIED - HIV Health & Beyond, and WSU Adult ID Clinic.

Learn more about AIDS Walk Detroit by calling 248-399-WALK (9255) or visit http://www.aidswalkdetroit.org/.
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