Now in its sixth year, the Northern Nevada AIDS Walk was founded in memory of Steven Hendrix, who died in 2006 after a 13-year battle with AIDS. Hendrix was dedicated to his friends, family and community and served others tirelessly. In 2004, he was honored as volunteer of the year by Spectrum for his work in AIDS education, addiction and recovery and in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community.
“When Steven Hendrix died, a group of friends realized he had done so much for this community that we wanted to honor him,” said Barbara Williamson, secretary and founding member of the Northern Nevada AIDS Walk.
Williamson said during the past five years, the Northern Nevada AIDS Walk has raised $80,000 for the community agencies that provide education, prevention and treatment for AIDS in northern Nevada: Advancing Community Cultivation and Enhancing Progressive Transformations (ACCEPT), Northern Nevada HOPES, Frontline of Northern Nevada, Center for Behavioral Health (CBH Reno), Nevada Urban Indians and Northern Nevada Outreach Team (NNOT).
Walkers holding an arch of red balloons led the AIDS walk around the Sparks Marina Saturday while bystanders cheered, walkers rang red bells and a local radio station played upbeat tunes.
“All proceeds from the walk will benefit the wonderful organizations that exist solely to serve the individuals infected and affected by HIV/AIDS and educate the public on the very important topic of AIDS prevention,” the Northern Nevada AIDS Walk website, renoaidswalk.org, states.
The Rev. Glenn E. Taylor Sr. of Greater Light Christian Center, who founded ACCEPT, offered a prayer Saturday morning to kick off the AIDS walk.
“We pray that we find a cure for this deadly disease before it devastates not just another country, but another single person,” Taylor said in his prayer.
Taylor said he started ACCEPT in 1995 because he saw a great need for AIDS education and prevention services, especially in the African-American community. The agency’s mission, according to www.acceptonline.org, is “to provide HIV specific prevention services to date, as well as substance abuse prevention, support and care services for individuals living with HIV or AIDS, and much more.”
When Taylor started ACCEPT, he said founding such an organization was an unpopular idea.
“It was when churches and everyone bought into the myth that AIDS was only in the gay community,” Taylor said. “It was back when people were acting like it would just go away.”
ACCEPT serves people of every ethnic background, but was formed specifically with the African-American population in mind. Taylor said although African-Americans make up a small percentage of the U.S. population, 12 percent, they account for about half of all HIV/AIDS infections.
“I’m really thankful for the people out here fighting this disease,” Taylor said. “People know that if it impacts one person, it impacts us all.”
Northern Nevada HOPES, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving the needs of individuals and families infected or affected with HIV/AIDS, provided free HIV/AIDS testing during Saturday’s event.
HOPES is just one of many agencies that provides such a service, and getting tested is a good idea since more than 7,000 Nevada residents are currently living with HIV/AIDS.
According to the Northern Nevada AIDS Walk website, in 2003, 462 Nevadans were newly diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, giving Nevada the second highest AIDS case rate in the western U.S., second only to California.
The message of prevention was abundant at Saturday’s event. One Reno woman, Kelly Penfold, sported a red T-shirt from the AIDS Health Care Foundation that said, “Love yourself, love your partner, love condoms.”
“I bought this from an agency in California,” Penfold said. “They also sent me this necklace that says, ‘I got tested, how ‘bout you?’ ”
Penfold serves as a board member for the Northern Nevada AIDS Walk and said she was participating in the walk this year for the first time.