GW students chanted the GW Fight Song as they walked across the Memorial Bridge to the Lincoln Memorial during the AIDS Walk Saturday, joining church groups, area university students and individual marchers from across the region.
The 13th Annual AIDS Walk benefited the Whitman-Walker Clinic, a volunteer, community-based health clinic that offers outpatient medical care, housing, legal services and mental health support to people living with HIV and AIDS in the D.C. area.
Almost 10,000 D.C.-area residents live with AIDS and up to 17,000 more have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to clinic statistics.
Despite concerns that the event’s timing and a new registration fee would hurt turnout, about 300 GW students gathered at the Pentagon at 10 a.m. wearing T-shirts that read We Walk Together.
GW organizers said they were worried the $25 donation requirement to take part in the walk would deter students from participating. They were also concerned that many students would be out of town because of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur and Columbus Day weekend.
The $25 registration fee did not worry freshmen Matt Pavone and Jeff Meisner, who raised about $170 in donations by knocking on doors in Thurston Hall the night before the event.
We raised money because we thought it was a really good cause, Pavone said. We went room to room and asked people if they would sponsor us. Some people were very giving and some unfortunately were not.
GW students, most of whom met at the Pentagon, carried an array of signs and banners to represent the University.
I walked today because I realize that I am a pretty lucky guy and there are other people who aren’t so fortunate, senior Harold Stopler said. I am certainly able to do something like this, so here I am.
Despite the differences in age, ethnicity and sexual orientation of the walkers, GW students walked for a common purpose.
Junior Emily Gaines and sophomore Danielle Thompkins met a group of GW walkers at the Marvin Center early Saturday morning, before the walk.
We really wanted to help, Gaines said. We intended to do something like this last year, but we could never get around to it, so the AIDS Walk is making up for it.
Veterans of the event included seniors Nnenna Nwazigo, Prima Charles and Jasmine Polanzo, who have participated in the annual event since their freshman year.
Seeing people from different places come together like this is exciting and brings joy to my heart, Nwazigo said.
Oct. 7 was named Whitman-Walker Clinic – AIDS Walk Day by the Washington D.C. City Council to commemorate the first AIDS Walk of the millennium.
Event organizers changed the format of the walk from previous years, creating four separate starting points.
In years past it has always started on the (National) Mall and then you walk all throughout D.C., said Wendi Conti, presidential administrative fellow for GW’s Office of Community Service. This year, they split it up into four starting points all around D.C. that represent different Whitman-Walker Clinics in the area. Then we all merged on to the Mall and had the final celebration.
Walkers started the walk at Stanton Park in Northeast, D.C., Anacostia Park in Southeast, Meridian Hill Park in Northwest and the Pentagon parking lot.
Some participants said they joined Saturday’s walk because it touched a personal issue with them.
I work at a (pre-school and toddler center) in D.C., junior Natalia Walter said. (I was told) that some of the children there might have AIDS and some of their parents could also. I feel that (walking) is an obligation to them because I care for the children.
At the conclusion of the event, the walkers met at a field opposite the Washington Monument.
Walkers who donated the most funds received red rain ponchos. Some participants then filed onto the lawn between the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool to make a formation of a human red ribbon. Aerial pictures were taken of the human ribbon formation.
Representatives from the City Council and the Whitman-Walker Clinic spoke to the walkers during this final event.
The GW team made its presence known by waving signs to fight the battle against AIDS.
Leading the GW group were juniors Lilly Needleman, Jason Franklin and Josh Meyer along with Conti and Amiko Amatsumo, the director of the Office of Community Service.
We had a pretty good turn out, Conti said. There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm.