AIDS Walk Orlando raises over $52K for Hope & Help

By : Jeremy Williams
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ORLANDO | More than 400 walkers gathered at the Walt Disney Amphitheatre at Lake Eola Park in Orlando April 27, helping raise over $52,000 for Hope & Help’s 29th annual AIDS Walk.

AIDS Walk Orlando was moved back to the morning hours after two years as an evening walk around Lake Eola, kicking off at 7:30 a.m. with registration and guest speakers at the amphitheater. Speakers included City Commissioner Patty Sheehan and Hope & Help’s community developmental director Joshua Myers, also the AIDS Walk Orlando event director.

“It is wonderful to see all these people come out to walk and show support,” Myers says. “We raised $52,462 and still have donations coming in. By the end of the fiscal year we should be at $70,000 for the AIDS Walk, so we’re excited.”

Before the walk started, Hope & Help recognized the top three individual and top three team fundraisers. Scott Rich came in first for individual fundraisers bringing in $2,963, followed by John Abbott in second with $2,241 and James Palmisano with $1,642. The top team was MAC Cosmetics who raised a total of $9,245, followed by Hope & Help’s team with $3,244 and Olde Town Brokers with $2,241.

“We do this to raise funds, but also to raise awareness,” Myers says. “The fact that so many of our young people don’t understand how important an HIV test is or don’t understand the potency of the illness once you have it, that’s a bit of a tragedy. We are trying to reach them through whatever avenue we can to educate them on this preventable illness.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida Department of Health report that Orlando has the second highest HIV/AIDS transmission rate in the nation. Florida is also ranked first in new HIV and AIDS cases, something that frustrates Sheehan who watched many of her friends die due to the disease at the height of the AIDS crisis.

“I’m very passionate about this because I know what it’s like to lose half your friends. I don’t want to see that happen again,” she says. “People say that it isn’t a big deal, it’s a chronic illness with the medications now, and that frustrates me because the medications are very expensive and if we don’t have federal support funding a lot of people won’t be able to afford those medications … We have to get tested, we have to have PrEP.”

Myers, who echoes Sheehan’s concerns, says that while HIV is a manageable disease now that is no reason not to still be accountable for your sexual health.

“We want to encourage our youth not to take a lazy attitude towards HIV or any STD,” Myers says. “We just want everyone to be proactive, use condoms, talk to the folks you’re having sex with and get on the same page.”

Photos by Jake Stevens.

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