By 'painting the town red' on May 12, the AIDS Alliance of Northwest Georgia's fourth annual AIDS Walk Cartersville will highlight the importance of HIV education and prevention.
"It's a way to raise awareness as well as raise money," said Lola Thomas, executive director for the AIDS Alliance. "The first year was an AIDS walk. The next two years we incorporated a run into the event. But now that our office is actually located downtown, we decided we would go back to it just being an AIDS walk and highlight the issue of AIDS and make it more of a true AIDS awareness [event] in addition to it being a good cause and a fundraising event.
"So we came up with 'Painting the Town Red for AIDS Education' as our theme and we're going to have red T-shirts and red balloons, just to really try to make the point that AIDS is still very much here. It has not gone away and that we all need to be aware of it and [be] educated. And just to let everyone know that we're here for that purpose as well as to provide support to people who need it who are living with HIV and AIDS."
The 2.1-mile trek on May 12 will start at 11 a.m., with registration getting under way at Friendship Plaza in downtown Cartersville at 10 a.m. By visiting www.aanwg.org, participants can sign up in advance for $20 for individuals 13 and older and $10 for youths 12 and younger. The cost to enter increases on the day of the event by $5.
Proceeds from the AIDS Walk will help the nonprofit maintain its current level of services, some of which include transportation for clients, support groups, and prevention and housing programs. Based in Cartersville, the AIDS Alliance assists 110 HIV/AIDS clients, ranging in age from 14 to the mid-70s, in 10 northwest Georgia counties.
Last year's event drew more than 100 participants and raised about $8,000. If its goal of raising $12,000 this year is met, the AIDS Alliance will be a step closer to its overall mission of increasing local funding -- donations and benefits -- to 10 percent of its annual budget.
"This will go toward our educational services -- HIV prevention and educational services in the community," Thomas said. "We need the money to be able to do prevention in the community.
"Grants don't always come forth that will help us to reach all the different people that we would like to reach. [So] we are very appreciative of donations and money [generated] through fundraising events to help us be able to get the word out, particularly as we work among youth and increasingly have a focus on educating our youth and knowing that each generation has to be in a sense re-educated about HIV and how it can be prevented."
In addition to raising funds, AIDS Alliance board member Christopher McAbee believes the event also serves to unite the community.
"I really enjoy seeing people walk as families and walk in memory of loved ones," McAbee said about the event, which also will feature food, entertainment and prizes. "I like the fact that it's a positive reference to HIV and AIDS in our community, which is one thing we definitely need in a small community because of the stigma against HIV.
"I [also] like the positive atmosphere. It's a positive take on HIV and AIDS. It's a coming together. It unites us in the same direction, which is moving toward prevention and fighting the stigma. I'm hoping that [the change of location] works in two ways," he said, referring to altering the walk's starting point from Dellinger Park to Friendship Plaza. "I'm sure that it will give us more visibility and things like that but I'm really hoping that it will also help small, local businesses by drawing people down to the downtown area."
For more information about the AIDS Alliance or its upcoming event, visit www.aanwg.org or call 770-606-0953. Sponsorships, ranging from $250 to $2,000, also are available.