AIDS walk raises $127,000 less than last year

The 19th annual AIDS Walk Washington, held downtown on Saturday, raised $127,000 less than it did last year, a decline organizers attributed to the amount of money being donated to Hurricane Katrina relief.

More than 10 student organizations represented GW at the five-kilometer walk, which brought at least 3,350 people to Freedom Plaza at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Participants raised $408,000 to benefit the Whitman-Walker Clinic, the main provider of HIV and AIDS services in the D.C. area.

The AIDS walk came during a financial crisis for the clinic – its Maryland facility was closed Friday for financial reasons, and earlier this year the AIDS walk director resigned, which led to a later start on fundraising initiatives by the clinic, said Kim Mills, the clinic’s communication director.

Chip Lewis, a spokesman for Whitman-Walker, said the drop in funds raised was expected. The Whitman-Walker Clinic serves more than 7,000 clients annually, providing medical care, HIV testing, legal services, mental health and substance abuse counseling to people affected with HIV or AIDS in the D.C. area.

“A lot of things have overshadowed the walk so far,” he said. “We expected that there might be money going to Katrina and not to other charities.”

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) spoke at the opening ceremony of the event, commending participants for attending the walk this year, despite the other events occurring across the country that could distract Americans from the AIDS epidemic.

“Now we know the nation’s agenda is crowded with gas prices, Katrina, Rita and congressional corruption, but we walk today to keep AIDS on the national agenda,” she said. “We will walk today. We will walk tomorrow. And we will keep walking until we wipe this disease off the face of the Earth.”

Lewis said the clinic estimates that in D.C., one in 20 adults is HIV positive, and one in 50 has AIDS.

“D.C.’s rate of new AIDS cases per capita is 10 times that of the national average,” he said.

Some student groups were aware of the financial issues surrounding the clinic and said they worked harder to make sure they could have funds to contribute to the AIDS walk.

Junior Katie Hendricks, a member of GW’s Student Global AIDS Campaign, said the student organization raised $840 for the clinic through individual fundraising efforts.

GW’s Organization for Latin American Student also raised money specifically for the Latino division of the Whitman-Walker Clinic because of the financial crisis. Last week the group held a concert featuring various GW singing groups and received around $300 in proceeds, which was donated to Saturday’s walk.

The organization’s members said they were told by the clinic that Latino-specific programs are in danger of being cut, although Mills denied that it is being impacted any more than other areas of the clinic.

Fraternities, sororities and organizations Books for Africa, the National Association for Advancement of Colored People, the Organization of Latin American Students, Amnesty International, the pre-med honors society, Generic Theater, Circle K, College Democrats also had student representatives at the walk.

Many marchers said they had personal reasons for marching, and walked specifically for someone who had been lost to AIDS.

Students in GW’s Graduate School of Public Health and Health Services organized a team for the walk in order to support the cause as well as represent future leaders in the public health field.

“We thought it was important because we’re the only school of public health in the District,” said Trey Watkins, a first-year graduate student who was the team captain for the school’s group. “It would be an embarrassment not to be here.”

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