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Join walk to help those living with HIV/AIDS

Date: 7/7/2009

By Amanda Lemon

Staff Intern

FOREST PARK According to the AIDS Foundation of Western Massachusetts, every nine and a half minutes someone in the United States contracts HIV.

Surprised to hear this? That's exactly the point - and the problem.

AIDS is a disease that is preventable, but it continues to spread rapidly due to a lack of education and awareness among the general public. This is why the AIDS Foundation is hosting its annual 2009 AIDS Walk and Festival in Forest Park on Sept. 12 at 11 a.m..

The Walk/5K run is designed to raise money for the AIDS Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to assisting victims of the HIV/AIDS virus.

During the walk and festival to follow, participants will be offered educational materials as well as free, rapid testing.

Sue Maki, a co-chair of this year's walk, urges anyone and everyone to participate.

"Teams, individuals, churches, any group who wants to sponsor a team. Anyone who can come out and support [the walk] would be great," she encouraged.

One hundred percent of the money raised will directly benefit the foundation. A large part of it will be put towards the individual grant program, in which people living with HIV/AIDS are able to apply for financial assistance for necessary purchases.

Mark Zatyrka, a member of the Board of Directors and co-chair of this year's walk, explained how the foundation's services may be used.

"For an individual who's nearing the end of his life due to complications with the disease, [we could be] providing a grant to purchase a bed so he doesn't have to sleep on the floor," he described.

Sadly Zatyrka noted, "That was a real case we had."

And it's not far from home.

The foundation reports that as of 2005, there were 2,069 reported individuals living with AIDS in the city of Springfield alone. These are members of the community who are drained by the great financial burden of high co-pays and prescription costs, unable to afford everyday expenses.

Last year's walk brought in $62,000 for the AIDS Foundation, with over 90 percent of that coming from the pockets of individual donors within the community. This year's goal has been set at $75,000.

Immediately following the walk, an extravagant festival ensues. While exact plans haven't been announced, the day is promised to include live music and entertainment, food, prizes, games and exhibits by local businesses and non-profit groups.

"I'm hoping by having people come to the bringing this cause to their attention, they'll see that HIV/AIDS is around and present in Massachusetts," Zatyrka stated.

"I hope people get the education they need to make good decisions and stop the spread of this disease," he concluded.

Anyone looking to get involved with the walk, from local businesses to teams of walkers, should visit