Walk for Life Draws Hundreds to Downtown Providence
Commemorating the 30th anniversary of the first known case of AIDS, more than 250 people turned out for the 26th annual Walk for Life in Providence on Sunday, Oct. 2.
"Take Charge - Get Tested" was the theme of this year’s event, which is held annually to raise money for AIDS Project Rhode Island’s prevention, education and treatment services. This year’s fundraising goal is $65,000.
AIDS Project Rhode Island staffers and volunteers were among those who gathered at the State House in Providence to participate in the 2.5 mile walk through the city.
Students from Brown University, Rhode Island College and other schools were among the walkers.
Tom Bertrand, executive director of AIDS Project Rhode Island, said as many as 25 percent of people who live with the virus don’t know their status. He said APRI has experienced "great success" with testing, but acknowledged it remains a challenge to convince people of the importance of knowing their status.
"People get nervous when they come in," noted Bertrand.
Bertrand cited medical advances in HIV treatment as a reason why people are living longer with the disease. Paul Fitzgerald, president and chief executive officer of AIDS Care Ocean State, urged walk participants to make their voices heard.
"This is a fight that is not over," added Congressman David Cicilline, noting that money still needs to be raised to treat people with HIV and for education and prevention programs and services.
Spence, an APRI volunteer from Warwick, remembered the beginning of the epidemic in the 1980s as he participated in the walk. "It was scary," he said. "So many people were dying."
Other speakers included Dr. Josiah "Jody" Rich, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, WJAR anchor Barbara Morse-Silva and Stephanie Chafee, the wife of Gov. Lincoln Chafee. The Chafees also co-chaired the walk.
Stephanie Chafee was a nurse in the 1980s, and she recalled the climate of fear surrounding people with AIDS.
"We really thought of it as a death sentence," she said.
Rhode Island’s First Lady also encouraged those in attendance to practice safe sex, while AIDS Care Ocean State volunteers performed rapid HIV testing on site.
A group of doctors and activists who sought to raise awareness and provide care to people with AIDS formed APRI in 1985. The organization merged with the Providence-based Family Services of Rhode Island in 2008, and it is now billed as a division of Family Service, which provides housing, mental health counseling and other services to families and children.
The Walk for Life was sponsored by Coast 93.3 FM, WJAR, Providence Monthly, Metlife, The Jewish Voice and Herald The Bay, Options, Chelo’s, Cardi’s Furniture, the city of Providence, The Rainbow Times, East Side Monthly and Munroe Dairy sponsored the Walk for Life. Log onto www.aidsprojectri.org for more information.