COLUMBIA — Every summer for 17 years, people have walked from the Boone County Courthouse columns to the MU Columns in the Salute to Life Walk to show support for HIV and AIDS awareness. Ivan Ivy has been on almost all of these walks.
Ivy, who has been HIV positive for 25 years, is hoping to remember those lost from AIDS and raise awareness for people who have died.
"I've lost pretty much all of my friends," Ivy said. "I want to remember them and do as much as I can for the affected."
Rain-Central Missouri* is a group that provides 37 counties in Missouri with community support for people infected or affected by HIV or AIDS.
Supporters gathered Sunday in Courthouse Square for their 17th annual Salute to Life Walk. Rain and participants aim to raise awareness and understanding of the disease through their column-to-column walk.
Rain also provided free HIV testing services Sunday, in honor of National HIV Testing Day.
This walk is a witness that people care, said Heather Morgan, pastor at Columbia Hope Church, to people gathered before the walk started.
"(It's) wonderful that here in Columbia we have Rain and their active administration."
In her speech, Morgan detailed the effect of AIDS on the world:
- 4.1 million people with AIDS are in immediate need of medication and medical help.
- 8,000 people die every day from AIDS.
- 3 million die of AIDS each year.
The impact is also felt locally. Cale Mitchell, executive director of Rain, said the organization serves clients in all of the 37 counties it covers. Most of Rain's clients live in Boone County.
Rain provides its clients with case management services, which means it helps low-income, uninsured people with AIDS to connect with care. It also provides free HIV testing. All of Rain's services are free.
Mitchell said AIDS doesn't have the same impact in Columbia as other diseases, but it is something that Columbia needs to be aware of.
"In one way or another, it affects us all," Mitchell said.
Participants walked down Avenue of the Columns, from the courthouse to the MU quadrangle. White flags embellished with red AIDS awareness ribbons lined the street, and participants carried flags, as well.
"It's important that people don't forget," said Swana Blackburn, who is on the board of directors for Rain. "Stigmas are out there, and it's nice to raise awareness and show support."
The negativity sometimes attached to HIV and AIDS is something some participants on the walk would like to see disappear.
"It seems like most people who are (HIV) positive don't want to participate because of the stigma attached," Ivy said. He said he has experienced some isolation from the gay community and said there is always guilt by association.
Justyn Witt, an intern with Rain, wished for more participants. She said awareness of HIV and AIDS is important because it affects so many people in the community and the world. "It's not talked about in a lot of places," Witt said.
The more people who learn about it, the more help can be given, Witt said.
"When (Rain's Salute to Life Walk) first began, it was important for me to show I'm still alive and willing to make things better for people who are becoming positive," Ivy said.
RAIN currently has 275 clients, Mitchell said. He said there are record numbers of new positives and returning clients in the 37 counties that Rain serves. Because things are busier, its resources are more strained. Rain is supported by state and federal funds as well as individual and corporate donations. Events such as the Salute to Life Walk are important to raise money for Rain.
The event sponsors provided T-shirts for participants registered for the walk. All of the proceeds went to Rain.