One of the most meaningful and enjoyable community events in Tacoma takes place Sept. 22 at Cheney Stadium – the South Sound AIDS Walk. It’s meaningful because the walk is a time when the broader community can make a real and lasting difference in the lives of people with AIDS – and also their friends and family and those who have lost loved ones to the disease – by showing that a lot of people care. It’s enjoyable because the Walk is family friendly, fun and festive, made so by the many volunteers who see to it that participants are made to feel appreciated and valued for giving of their time and money. In short – walk in the AIDS Walk and it will leave a lasting impression you won’t soon forget.
This year the Walk’s reach embraces clients in Thurston County and Lewis County too. This reflects the recent outreach expansion of Pierce County AIDS Foundation (PCAF), which has organized and produced the AIDS Walk since 1991. This past January United Communities AIDS Network (UCAN), headquartered in Olympia, became part of PCAF. “We have assumed all services that have been done by UCAN,” said PCAF Executive Director Duane Wilkerson. “We also assumed their prevention program and we’re keeping the office they have in Olympia.” He noted that AIDS Walk funds raised by residents in Thurston and Lewis counties will go to services for those living in these counties.
What this means for AIDS Walk participants is that by giving up a Saturday morning to get out, walk and raise money, approximately 600 clients in three counties will be helped through the services and support PCAF gives to each of them – from a ride to the doctor and hot meals brought to those too sick to provide for themselves, to support groups, help with housing and even with writing a will. A not-for-profit, volunteer supported and community based organization, PCAF’s overarching mission is to prevent HIV infection, assist persons affected by HIV/AIDS, address related health problems and combat associated stigma and discrimination. This is what AIDS Walk dollars go toward, and in the current fiscal climate of increased financial hardships affecting non-profits across the country. To date, walkers have raised more than $2 million.
On PCAF’s Facebook page, walk organizers are gathering inspirational stories from past walkers about why they participate. Jackie (last name withheld) writes in part: “I lost my only brother to AIDS on June 5, 1992. Not a day goes by I don’t miss and remember him.” Walking in the AIDS Walk led Jackie on to more volunteer work cooking dinner for the residents of Three Cedars, a housing facility for people with AIDS, on the first of each month. She writes that she will walk with her son and stepson, who first walked with her when they were little boys in the early 1990s. “They are now 23 and 31!” she wrote. Those who may wish to tell their walk story can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or share in the comments section on PCAF’s Facebook page.
Walkers will also have a new place to gather and a new walk route this year. After more than two decades of holding the Walk in downtown Tacoma, Cheney Stadium is now the new venue for the event, offering ready-made gathering spaces for the more than 1,000 people expected to be there, ample free parking, and an unrestricted two-mile walk on an even surface suitable for walkers of any ability. “We are really excited about our new venue,” Wilkerson said. The 2012 Walk route will include a lap around the stadium track and a nice walk on the Scott Pierson Trail.
With just two weeks to go before the Walk happens, organizers are anticipating a lot of walkers and sponsors to sign up between now and Sept. 22. Registration for the AIDS Walk is open at http://www.piercecountyaids.org, where you can also sign up to sponsor a walker or team. You can even register as a “virtual walker” for those who can’t make it to the Walk itself.
Next week, be sure and pick up your copy of Tacoma Weekly (a returning sponsor of the South Sound AIDS Walk) to read all about what’s on the program this year for the opening ceremony, awards, music, entertainment and more.