$100,000 is a lot for these groups. Wait till you hear what they could do with 5 million which is still under what AHF is spending on its condoms in porn mandate. When given the number of new infections each year one has to wonder what AHF’s hidden agenda really is. One thing is certain. It’s not HIV or AIDS awareness or prevention.
More than 1,000 people gathered in seven locations across the state, including in North Brunswick, on Sunday for the 2012 New Jersey AIDS Walk.
The second annual event, organized by seven leading HIV/AIDS service organizations in the state, is intended to keep the HIV/AIDS crisis in New Jersey in focus and raise money for the cause.
Monique Howard of New Jersey Woman and AIDS Network, which organized and hosted the walk in North Brunswick, said that while the day was exhausting, it was exhilarating, as well.
The AIDS service providers that hosted this year’s walk are Buddies of New Jersey in Ridgewood, Dooley House in Pennsauken, New Jersey AIDS Services in Morristown, North Jersey Community Research Initiative in Newark, New Jersey Woman and AIDS Network in North Brunswick, South Jersey AIDS Alliance in Atlantic City, and The Center in Asbury Park in Asbury Park.
“It’s not just about raising the money,” said Laurie Litt-Robbins, CEO of New Jersey AIDS Services, which organizes and hosts the walk’s Morristown location. “Why we walk is also to raise awareness and acceptance. If people were more open and accepting, we could do more with prevention and testing. But, the stigma of knowing and not wanting the world to know still exists. We can only do so much.”
New Jersey has the fifth-highest rate of HIV infection in the country, with more than 35,000 people currently living with HIV/AIDS, Litt-Robbins said. She said they need more support than ever.
“While people can live a normal life span now, there are still 17,000 AIDS-related deaths in the United States each year,” Litt-Robbins said. “And 50,000 still get infected each year with HIV, so obviously what we have taught about prevention is not enough.”
While Litt-Robbins said that more people are getting tested today, AIDS still is considered a pandemic.
“It’s still happening, people are still getting infected, they are still dying, there is still no cure, there is still stigma and discrimination,” she said.
The stigma surrounding AIDS/HIV has never gone away, Litt-Robbins said.
“People still don’t want to talk about it,” she said. “It continues to estrange people and isolate them. For instance, the first thing people say or think is, ‘What did she do to die from that? It’s her fault.’ But, it does not define you, it does not have to. No disease has to define you, you are so much more You have so much more to offer than a disease.”
While Litt-Robbins acknowledged that there does not seem to be as much publicity for AIDS/HIV as in the past, she said there are reasons for it.
“One big reason is that there is an entire generation that did not ever know an AIDS-free world,” she said. “This is their norm, and when it is a norm, it is not dark and scary and coming out of nowhere. Not like when I was in college in the ’80s.”
Litt-Robbins said another reason is that “it is not like the devastation witnessed in the ’80s where entire neighborhoods were being wiped out.”
“Every weekend it was another funeral,” she said. “We also still have the thoughts of: This can never happen to me. That also still exists in people’s mindsets.”
Litt-Robbins said the New Jersey AIDS Walk is a model of how collaboration among social-service organizations can raise awareness and leverage support, accomplishing more than working independently.
“This is the second year of an annual statewide walk,” she said. “Each agency had done some kind of walk before separately. Morristown had done 20. But, we thought why are we as complementary agencies competing with each other? If we make it one effort for the whole state, then we can compete on the scale of New York and Philadelphia. So, we gathered all our players and said, ‘Let’s do this.’ ”
Also by combining forces, Litt-Robbins said, the walk attracts larger corporate sponsors, such as Walgreens.
“They didn’t just add their sponsorship. They added their participation,” she said. “The stores raised money and employees walked. They probably added about $25,000 to the total.”
In Morristown alone, Litt-Robbins said, approximately $45,000 was raised, including the state and local sponsors. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., attended the Morristown walk, she said.
“We had about 300 walkers and another 100 volunteers,” Litt-Robbins said. “All in all, about 400 to 500 people were here.”
Howard said the NJWAN is the only female-specific AIDS service organization in New Jersey and among the first of its kind in the nation. Since 1988, it has been providing education, prevention, treatment adherence, advocacy and wellness programming to women who are living with HIV/AIDS.
“We had about 85 walkers at the North Brunswick Community Park and raised over $10,000,” Howard said. “It is so very important individuals to come out to walk because the monies raised are unrestricted. This means that these dollars can be used to purchase essential items that our clients need, and underwrite portions of programs that are not fully funded.”
Howard said NJWAN was located in New Brunswick since its opening in 1988 but moved the main office to Trenton in October.
“The reason that the walk was held in North Brunswick is because the park was convenient to our old neighborhood and still convenient to our new one,” she said.