Rock Bridge students walk for AIDS

Saturday, December 22, 2007 | 3:54 p.m. CST; updated 7:36 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Friday’s fundraising walk included elements of a “kick-me” campaign, playing off signs placed on kids’ back as a prank. This sign, worn by 17-year-old Rebecca Akutekha, is meant to encourage activism.

COLUMBIA — For many adolescents, the number 21 is associated with wild “drinking age” birthdays that call for 21 shots. But for a group of Rock Bridge High School students, 21 has become a symbol of helping the less fortunate.

On Friday, which happened to be Dec. 21, 21 students walked 21 miles to earn pledges of $21 for the fight against AIDS. The walk started at 8 a.m. on the MKT Nature/Fitness Trail at Flat Branch Park and would conclude 9½ hours later after students walked back and forth on a section of the trail to log the miles.

AIDS by the numbers

According to Youth AIDS’ Web site, 40.3 million people worldwide have contracted AIDS. In 2006, there were 4 million AIDS infections and 2.9 million deaths. In the United States alone, 1 million people have either HV or AIDS, and 40,000 are infected each year. About half of newly infected people are younger than age 25.

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By early afternoon, the students neared the intersection of Stewart and Providence roads with weary legs, clutching water bottles and stripping off their winter coats. Their red faces were a clear indication of a solid workout. They finished the final stretch in darkness shortly after 5:30 p.m., exhausted but in high spirits, said Matt Cone, the Rock Bridge teacher who accompanied them.

With only a couple of weeks preparation and no assistance from advertising, the group raised $5,700.

Many of the students, including 17-year-old senior Sainy Hussam, said participation in Cone’s social studies class piqued their interest in the AIDS situation in the developing world, so he decided to get involved and support the program.

Both Cone and his students said they had watched documentaries about efforts to combat the disease in developing countries.

Cone said the fundraising campaign is on behalf of Youth AIDS, an organization “that does a lot of work throughout the developing world.”

“We know some of the people who work there,” Cone said, “and we are big fans of theirs, so we came up with this idea to raise a lot of money for them by virtue of a walk.”

Cone said the fundraising walk was also based loosely on a “kick-me” campaign developed by Population Services International, the parent group for Youth AIDS. That effort plays off the childhood prank of putting “kick me” signs on children’s backs without their knowledge. Cone said the idea is that people deserve a kick if they’re not doing enough about the AIDS epidemic.

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