Enjoy a walk through downtown Tacoma and help people with HIV/AIDS

The 18th annual Pierce County AIDS Walk will be held on Sept. 12 in downtown Tacoma. Unite with fellow patrons in the spirit of caring and giving by participating in the largest and most visible fundraising event for HIV/AIDS in the South Puget Sound. This year's theme for the Walk is "Because We Must."

"[A]s AIDS service organizations across the country are grappling with direct impacts in funding shortfalls while more individuals are becoming infected with HIV disease, we are preparing for this year's Pierce County AIDS Walk with renewed urgency and an acute awareness of its importance in the lives of thousands of Tacoma-Pierce County residents," said Walk coordinator Russell Batten. "The shortfalls that we have faced this year, thankfully, have not impacted the Pierce County AIDS Foundation's prevention and care services in devastating - or even near devastating - ways. But we are certainly feeling the impact."

Over the past 17 years, the AIDS Walk has helped to raise nearly $1.5 million for PCAF's programs and services. PCAF is hoping that more than 2,000 participants attend. The goal of the AIDS Walk is to help raise over $125,000 to support HIV/AIDS prevention, care and advocacy services in Pierce County. All proceeds raised from the Walk will stay in Pierce County to continue supporting those efforts. Most of the funds raised will benefit the programs and operations of PCAF. Additionally, funds raised from this year's AIDS Walk will also benefit three other organizations through a grant-making program AIDSWALKdirect. Those organizations are: AIDS Housing Association of Tacoma, Planned Parenthood and Community Health Care.

The event is family-friendly and keeps a festive atmosphere. Light breakfast snacks and a barbeque lunch will be served to every Walk participant, thanks to the generous support of Metropolitan Market -Proctor, with freshly brewed coffee available for free by Starbucks. Musical entertainment will include the dancehall and reggae stylings of Alex Duncan. Other musical entertainment will also be offered in the afternoon. There will be a number of inspirational speakers, including those who are living with and/or directly impacted by HIV disease. Beyond this, there will be a Community Resources Expo featuring local area nonprofits and free HIV testing and counseling. Additionally, there will be for the third year in a row a Community Art Engagement project along the AIDS Walk route called "Preservation: Lives Not Lost" and is supported with funding from Tacoma's Art Commission. All walkers will have an opportunity to create a unique testimony to the AIDS pandemic. Participants can bring small items and significant mementos, small enough to fit in a test tube, and join in creating a lasting testimony of the fight against AIDS. Lastly, everyone who shows up will receive a free AIDS Walk T-shirt, while supplies last.

The AIDS Walk is approximately 2.5 miles long, beginning and ending at the University of Washington-Tacoma campus located at 1900 Commerce. The event will begin at 9 a.m. and end at 1 p.m. To register for the Walk go to www.piercecountyaids.org. On the homepage there is a link that will take you to the registration page. When on that page, click on the red bolded link to the left that says "Register Here!" and follow the directions. Very easy, very painless and for a good cause.

Also on the registration page visitors can make donations and sponsor a fellow walker or team. Nothing will deter the cause; the AIDS Walk will be held rain or shine. Anyone can join as well, even pets as long as they're leashed, well-behaved and are current with shots and licensing. The entire Walk route is accessible to both strollers and wheelchairs.

Pierce County AIDS Foundation (PCAF) is a non-profit established in 1987 to respond to the needs of persons living with HIV/AIDS in Pierce County. Through education and service, PCAF helps to prevent HIV infections, assists persons affected by HIV/AIDS and addresses related health problems as PCAF makes it their mission to combat stigmas and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS. The agency has a $1.7 million annual budget and receives funding from local, state and federal governments, the United Way, private foundations and individuals, churches, organizations and corporations.

An estimated 33 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS. The United States has one of the largest HIV epidemics in the world, with an estimated 1.2 million people living with HIV in 2005. One quarter of persons living with HIV are unaware that they are infected. Since the beginning of the epidemic, the Washington State Department of Health estimates that there are currently between 11,500 and 12,700 people living with the HIV disease with nearly 16,800 people having been diagnosed with HIV. The total number of people living with HIV disease in Washington State increases about 5 percent each year. Eighty-six percent of people living with HIV disease in Washington State are male and between 2003 and 2007, 56 percent of new HIV diagnoses among males were associated with male-to-male sexual contact.

Pierce County has the second highest incidence of new HIV infections in Washington State, second only to King County. Thirty-five percent of the cases of HIV/AIDS in Pierce County are among people of color. Twenty percent of all Pierce County AIDS cases are women, which is twice the statewide percentage. As of July 31, 2009, 703 in our state are known to have died from complications related to AIDS. Over 1,880 people with HIV/AIDS have come to the PCAF for services. Statistics also show, based on this information, that when AIDS/HIV affects one of us, it affects ALL of us.

The Pierce County AIDS Foundation is located at 625 Commerce St., Suite 10. Agency hours are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about the AIDS Walk or PCAF, e-mail info@piercecountyaids.org or call (253) 383-2565. Also follow the PCAF on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.


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