Laura Daley stood near the starting line of AVOL’s annual AIDS Walk on Sunday and held a hand-made sign that read: “Stop AIDS.”
The 20-year-old Transylvania University sophomore and Louisville native got about 10 of her fellow Transy classmates to volunteer with her at the 23rd annual AIDS walk and Red Ribbon 5K at Coldstream Park off of Leestown Road.
“I still feel like HIV/AIDS is still an issue that’s really taboo, especially living in Kentucky,” Daley said. “Everyone has heard of Race for the Cure. I’m glad that they have dedicated a walk just to this because this issue often gets overlooked.”
Daley was one of about 200 people who braved Sunday’s chilly weather and overcast skies to show their support and raise money for AVOL, a nonprofit that has provided free HIV testing and outreach to Central and Eastern Kentucky since 1987.
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Jon Parker, executive director of AVOL (AIDS Volunteers Inc.) , said last year’s walk raised about $10,000.
“Our goal this year is to raise $19,000,” Parker said.
This year the group added a 5K after several people asked the organization to do so. It also moved the walk and race to Coldstream Park to accommodate runners.
Although the Dine Out for Life dining fundraiser in September raises more money for the nonprofit, the annual walk also helps the group raise awareness, Parker said.
“This is a chance for all of us to be together,” he said.
Before the start of Sunday’s walk, Parker asked for a moment of silence for all of those who have died from HIV/AIDs and took a moment to remember the late Dr. Rice Leach, Lexington’s health commissioner and a long-time champion of HIV testing. Leach, who also pushed for the creation for a needle-exchange program, died April 1.
Nearly 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV. Parker estimated there are 3,000 living with HIV in Central and Eastern Kentucky.
“Probably about 15 percent of those 3,000 don’t know they are affected,” he said. “Part of our goal is for those people to know their status and continue to live a healthy life.”
Federal, state and other grants fund many of AVOL’s housing programs, including Solomon House and Rainbow Apartments, a small complex of furnished units for people with AIDS. Those grants can’t be used to buy food or to help with transportation. That’s why private donations and the annual walk and run are so important, Parker said.
“With local donations, we can help with household setup, food assistance and transportation assistance,” Parker said. “ It also helps us to provide HIV testing. “
The group typically provides 1,000 free HIV tests a year. With intravenous drug use, including heroin, on the rise, AVOL expects those numbers to climb. The group recently started a public awareness and outreach campaign in Harlan. Grant money for that program will run out soon. Some of the proceeds from Sunday’s event could help that program continue, Parker said.
“The early numbers for 2016 show the trend will go up higher than a thousand,” Parker said.