On March 1, UGA students and members of the Athens community will participate in the inaugural AIDS Walk/Run Athens to raise money and awareness for those living with AIDS in Northeast Georgia.
Initiated by UGA students in the AWRA organization, the festivities will begin near the Tate Student Center, with the three-mile run starting at 11 a.m. and a walk at 11:15 a.m. An awards ceremony and lunch will follow at 12:30 p.m.
Lauren Vigil, the group’s chief officer, said the event was inspired by a similar one at Yale University, which had its first AIDS Walk in 2005. Because the idea greatly interested her, Vigil “brought the idea home to Athens.”
“Once we started learning about the (Athens) community, we decided that an AIDS walk would be a worthwhile cause,” she said.
The state of Georgia ranks eighth for the highest HIV caseload in the U.S. and fifth for the highest number of new AIDS cases diagnosed each year, according to AWRA officials.
Vigil hopes the walk will help others learn about the dangers of HIV/AIDS.
“The taboo nature of HIV and prejudice against people who are HIV positive contribute to a stifling environment in which people are not fully educated about the disease until it is too late,” said Vigil. “We invite individuals in our community to join this walk to break social barriers and bring the tough realities of HIV and AIDS into regular conversation so that education might be attainable.”
All teams must be registered by Feb. 22, but race-day registration will be available for individual participants, starting at 9:30 a.m. The registration fee is $15 for adults, $5 for children 12 and younger and $100 for teams. However, runners and walkers are encouraged to help AWRA meet its fundraising goal of $50,000 by collecting donations and sponsorships.
All proceeds from the race will be donated to AIDS Athens, a nonprofit organization that serves local community members who are infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS. The organization currently serves 10 counties, including Jackson, Madison, Elbert, Barrow, Clarke, Oglethorpe, Oconee, Walton, Morgan and Greene.
AWRA officially became an organization at the university last fall and currently has 25 active members, most of whom are undergraduate and graduate students. The only other AIDS walk held in Georgia is in Atlanta, but AWRA’s walk is unique in that it helps those in the rural parts of Georgia, whereas Atlanta’s walk assists only those in the metro area.