Supporters are strapping on their running shoes and sporting red ribbons in preparation for the Third Annual AIDS Walk New Haven this Sunday afternoon.
Sponsored by the Yale chapter of AIDS Watch, AIDS Walk New Haven is a 5K walk designed to raise money for 10 local AIDS service organizations. AIDS activists across the state said fundraising events like AWNH are crucial after recent budget cuts to AIDS prevention programs. New Haven has a particularly large problem with AIDS — the city has the second largest number of AIDS cases in the state.
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The event is also seen as a chance to raise public awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and create solidarity between Yale and the local community.
“Hopefully, this is a way of bringing Yale and New Haven together,” said Sarah Kellner ’08, one of the organizers of the event. “This is a good way to show people involved in that type of work that Yale is paying attention and trying to contribute to their work.”
Co-chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on AIDS Matthew Lopes ’72 EPH ’77 said “there’s not a lot of excess cash for the community to use” in fighting AIDS, so it is a boon to have Yale students take initiative and try to help the community.
In the past few months, numerous AIDS prevention groups across the state have seen significant budget cuts from the federal and state governments. As a result, AIDS activists said events like AWNH have become even more important to prevention efforts.
“Because there have been federal cuts, [AIDS service] programs have been put into short income streams,” Lopes said. “Some of the agencies only got 53 percent of what they had last year, so anything the AWNH can do to offset this cut is more important than it ever was before.”
But though the event is gaining more recognition on campus and around the city, event organizers said, they are aware that AWNH alone will not change the world.
“It’s a drop in the bucket, but a really important drop,” Kellner said. “We’re not curing AIDS, but we’re attempting to be a public force. If we can get a hundred people out, and they close the streets, then it shows the community that we care about these issues. The money is sometimes small, but a small amount goes a long way.”
AIDS Watch has tried to publicize the event by handing out condoms imprinted with the words “AIDS Walk New Haven” outside of Toad’s at night.
“The objective is twofold: By having customized condoms, we attract students and generate buzz around the walk,” event co-coordinator Emily Koh ’08 said. “On the other hand, condoms do provide a practical purpose in preventing the spread of HIV.”
According to planners, students reacted with different responses to the customized condoms, but the overall effect of the publicity stunt was positive.
“Some people were like, ‘Yeah, I’ll take a condom,’ and some were weirded out,” Kellner said. “The point is to spread word about AWNH in a way that is controversial, and to get people to start thinking about AIDS and safe sex.”
Coordinators said a brutal storm curtailed the number of AWNH entrants last year, but that they are optimistic that this year’s walk will be enjoyable and fulfilling.
AIDS Walk New Haven was started in 2005 by a group of Yale undergraduates who wanted to connect with their local community. The walk will start and end on the New Haven Green, and participants will walk around downtown New Haven during the event. Prior to the walk, participants raise money by asking for donations, either individually or in teams, from family, friends and colleagues.