AIDS walk raises funds for those affected
Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05
For the second year in a row, a team made up of UTEP students from the Eta Sigma Gamma Honor Society and Students for Public Health at UTEP, won the second-place award for team fundraising during the annual AIDS Walk event.
The AIDS Walk is held every year to raise funds to assist programs and to increase the local community’s awareness of AIDS.
“I have a passion for this work because I don’t think this should happen anymore. We need to do something about it,” said Sandra Bejarano, graduate student in public health. “We know how to prevent AIDS. We know how to prevent HIV and we know how to treat it so that they don’t have to progress to AIDS.”
For the past 20 years, members of the El Paso community have come together in support of those who have become affected by AIDS through the walk.
“It’s fun. It gets us out of the desk, the computer, away from books and actually apply what we learn in the classroom setting out in the field,” Bejarano said.
This year, the AIDS Walk was hosted by the non-profit group International Aids Empowerment and was held on Oct. 27 at Cohen Stadium. IAE had been a part of the event for the past five years.
“Previous to us, there was another AIDS service organization that spearheaded the event,” said Antonio Martinez, program director/operations officer at IAE. “We’ve kind of inherited the event due to the transition of different organizations.”
By joining forces with several community and student groups from surrounding institutions, IAE seeks to increase the amount of funds raised by the 5K walk/run to assist with its various programs.
“We’ve been working with AIDS Walk and the IAE for three years now. We heard about the AIDS Walk the first year so we did an AIDS rally on campus,” said Cynthia Keith, senior English major and president of the Black Student Union. “Every year during October we do our own AIDS awareness week that leads up to the AIDS Walk.”
Keith also said that the funds they raise during their events are donated to the IAE. She said the group raised $500 the first year they participated, $750 last year and had a goal of $1,500 for this year.
Martinez said that the funds raised through the AIDS Walk and other events stay local and support various programs and services that IAE maintains. These programs and services include a food pantry program, supplementary clothing, case management system and emergency financial assistance.
“He (Martinez) is one of my inspirations. I see how he works nonstop to get people who are HIV positive to get the things that they need,” Bejarano said.
An educational program offered by IAE is also supported by the funds raised through the AIDS Walk.
“We go out to the community and educate in schools and other businesses that welcome us and we go out there and do talks on HIV and STDs or hepatitis C,” Martinez said. “We share our story, or the individual who goes out and does the talk, shares the story about what it’s been like to live with HIV.”
Martinez said that this year they have seen an increase in the number of people volunteering, but at the same time, they’ve seen an increase in infections.
“It’s grown (AIDS Walk),” Keith said. “The first year we went it seemed like very few people were coming out. There was always that stigma behind—I can’t support AIDS, it’s that gay disease or the African-American disease.”
The AIDS Walk also featured other events such as live entertainment, health screenings, a dog-grooming station and information about local community resources.
IAE and other AIDS service organizations also seek to empower the community to get health screenings for AIDS and STDs and possibly lower the number of infections reported annually.
“Last year during National HIV Testing Day, La Fe (Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe) reported that the youngest person infected with HIV was an 11 year old,” Bejarano said.
Bejarano also said that a report from the city’s Public Health Department stated that on average, El Pasoans who are infected with HIV progress to AIDS within a year.
“I don’t want to leave UTEP without making a difference. Even if it’s a little bit,” Bejarano said.
Robert Brown may be reached at email@example.com.