On Sunday, September 28th, I volunteered at the Albany AIDS Walk. I learned about this event only a week before and as soon as I did, I knew that I had to get involved. I called the organizers and asked if they needed volunteers and signed myself up to work the day.
I got there early in the morning and we were very lucky to have a dry and somewhat sunny day after forecasts had predicted heavy rains. Setting up for the walk was really easy since there were a large amount of volunteers (mostly fraternity and sorority members from local SUNY Albany and St. Rose colleges). I met a lot of great people and as is the case sometimes with these types of events, we actually spent more of our time sitting around than actually doing any work.
The day was overall really great though. Once the walk started and people arrived the atmosphere was truly incredible. I've participated in a few of these different walks before and I've never been at one with a more diverse group of people or with more energy. There was intoxicating live music and everybody was literally dancing in the street.
One of the most exciting parts of the event for me where the amount of young children that were there with their parents and families. AIDS is so often a taboo topic and not openly due to the fact that it is spread through sexual contact and drug use. I am part of the group of people that feel that AIDS is best combat through early education and open dialogue from the beginning of what exactly HIV/AIDS is, how it is spread, and how to protect ones self. I was really touched and given hope by the amount of children that were present at the AIDS walk.
I even saw a group of kids that all had on red T-shirts that had been made saying, "Chris's 10th Birthday Party Team" on the front and "AIDS Walk 2008" on the back. I thought that was such a great idea for a kid's birthday event and the kids all looked like they were having a great time running around, dancing to the music, and grabbing some of the free give aways from the different sponsor booths set up.
There was a presentation by the Damien House, an HIV/AIDS support group in Albany right before the event started that brought tears to my eyes. I felt like a pretty big dork standing alone in a crowd of people crying but I was really moved by the man that spoke. The past few years I've spent a lot of time doing volunteer/support/fundraising/awareness work for AIDS primarily in Africa. Although I found it impossible to discuss AIDS in Africa without also bringing up what it is doing in our own communities, I wasn't primarily focused on the crisis at hand within our own country.
However, after learning about all of the great organizations in the capital NY region, I am excited to start volunteering again for local awareness groups. One statistic that I learned today that I had never heard before:
In New York State, every HOUR a new person is infected with HIV.
HIV/AIDS isn't gone people. The problem is still live and still devastating. Look for groups in your own community and volunteer/donate. Please!