In was in 1981 that Tacomans first put feet to pavement for Pierce County AIDS Foundation’s (PCAF) inaugural AIDS Walk. Back then, no one knew that the disease would hang on this long without a cure, but here we are in 2011 still raising funds for PCAF’s critically important HIV prevention, care and advocacy services that help thousands of South Sound residents every day.
On Sept. 24, the 20th annual Pierce County AIDS Walk kicks off from Broadway to support those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS – to honor the memory of those lost and to uplift the men, women and children who continue to live with the disease – and their families, friends and caregivers.
This is not to say the AIDS Walk is a somber or mournful event; rather, it is an empowering, family-friendly reason to get out and breathe some fresh air and enjoy music, food, friends and an invigorating dose of empowerment.
The event starts with joyful music. At 9 a.m. walkers can dig the pulsing rhythms and harmonious melodies of UnderWater Radar, a four-piece, neo-soul world beat fusion band fronted by PCAF case manager Evelyn Aba Aako on vocals. Then, words of encouragement will be shared by Walk emcee Benjii Bittle, deputy executive director at Broadway Center. PCAF Executive Director Dwayne Wilkerson will also speak about the work PCAF does and why it is still important for the community to help keep this organization strong. After fueling up on breakfast provided by Metropolitan Market and Starbucks, walkers will start the route carrying red ribbons that bear the names of those who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS.
“This is (PCAF’s) biggest event,” Wilkerson said, noting that the Walk gives PCAF a way to reach out to the broader community and spread the message that AIDS is not over.
“Work is still needed at this time when people think AIDS is not a problem anymore.” He said PCAF now has more clients than ever before, as more people with HIV/AIDS are living longer thanks to advancements in medicine, and that new infections continue to be diagnosed across the state every day.
“By keeping people healthy and on their meds, that reduces their ability to transmit the virus to others.”
Wilkerson said that approximately 20 percent of HIV positive people in Pierce County do not know they are positive. “Our message is that we really want you to get tested if you’re at risk – if you have unprotected sex or if you’re sharing needles. If you’ve done either of those things in the past six months, you need to get tested.” PCAF offers free and anonymous testing – learn more at www.piercecountyaids.org or call (253) 383-2565.
This type of information, and more, will be available at the Walk. The goal this year is to raise $100,000. Funds raised will go to a number of PCAF resources including its housing program, transportation vouchers, mental health services, chemical dependency programs and support groups. “We also have our amazing prevention department that’s out there getting the word out about PCAF and how to protect yourself,” according to Walk coordinator and PCAF Development Officer Stacy Ellifritt. She said the turnout this year of pre-registrants is looking good. “It’s heartwarming that people want to give to something for the welfare of our community.”
Wilkerson said that with federal and state funding shrinking at a time when the number of PCAF clients is increasing, the community’s help is sorely needed. “We look for AIDS Walk funding to fill those gaps,” Wilkerson said. “More and more (PCAF clients) are having trouble staying in their homes and paying utility bills and even meeting their basic needs.” Not only does PCAF help clients with their utility bills, the foundation’s essential needs bank provides clients with things like cleaning supplies, toothbrushes and other items not available at food banks or that cannot be purchased with food stamps.
Registrations for the Walk can be done online up to the day of the event at www.piercecountyaids.org. “It’s never too late to register and come out to walk with us,” Ellifritt said.