Upcoming AIDS walk assists agency that helps those impacted by the disease.

The Lake Eola amphitheater will be the kickoff point for next month's AIDS Walk Orlando 2011 on April 9.

ORLANDO – Lake Eola is likely to look a lot more crowded next month, and for a good reason: AIDS Walk Orlando 2011 kicks off with people who have pledged to walk around the lakefront park, helping contribute to an agency that assists people with the disease.
“This is our 16th year of doing AIDS Walk Orlando at Lake Eola,” said Julie Noda, events coordinator for Hope and Help of Central Florida, the nonprofit agency that provides resources to people living with HIV and prevention to help stop the spread of the disease.
“We are a 501c non-profit, and we’re the largest AIDS service provider organization,” she said.
AIDS Walk Orlando 2011 will be held on Saturday, April 9, and starts and ends at the Lake Eola/Walt Disney World Amphitheatre in downtown Orlando on Rosalind Street. For the participants, it will last for three laps around the lake or three kilometers (1.86 miles). Of the money raised from this event, 88 cents of every dollar goes directly to client services.
“It’s mainly a fund-raiser,” Noda said. “We raise $160,000 from it. To keep providing all these services, we need help from the community. We wouldn’t be able to continue to provide all these services without it.”
Hope and Help of Central Florida started AIDS Walk Orlando in 1995, and as Noda pointed out, it’s grown over the years. Last year more than 1,800 people participated, and Noda said she expects 2,000 to join the walk this year.
AIDS Walk Orlando 2011 begins on Saturday, April 9 with an on-site registration at 8 a.m., followed by opening remarks at 8:45. The walk starts 9:30, with closing remarks and an awards ceremony following at 11 a.m.
The money raised goes toward Hope and Help Center’s services, including HIV testing, youth outreach and prevention, peer mentoring, medical case management, pharmacy coverage and more.
“What we do is twofold,” Noda said. “For our care initiatives, we have case managers who do medical case management. If someone has been diagnosed HIV positive, our case managers can guide them through the process – what to do, where to go, what doctors to go to.”
They also help people struggling to cover their new, very high medical expenses.
“We can actually assist someone who is positive in paying their insurance, people who can’t afford their co-pay,” Noda said, adding that this program is called AIDS Insurance Continuation.
“If they can’t afford the cost of their co-pay, we can pay that,” Noda said. “We also do a medication eligibility to see if we can offer them funding for their medications. These are some of our care initiatives. We also have a food pantry so they never have to make a decision between getting care or getting food.”
The agency also has prevention programs, including a mobile testing unit that goes to different stores like Wal-Greens, and visits what are considered high risk areas giving out free HIV tests. The results are available within 20 minutes.
“We do the same thing here in the office,” Noda said. “We have teams that go out into the community and do youth prevention seminars, where they teach them all about AIDS awareness and how to prevent the disease.”
In that respect, part of the purpose of the walk is to help raise a heightened awareness of the disease.
“Usually the only time people pay attention to this issue is when it’s World AIDS Day (in December) and if there’s an AIDS walk,” Noda said. “Having 2,000 people walking around Lake Eola definitely stirs a buzz. It gets people talking about the disease and how to prevent it. A lot of people think it’s exactly what it was in the 1980s, and that’s not the case. It really affects everybody today.”
Holding the walk, she said, “is really a platform for us to talk about the disease.”
The organizers encourage teams to participate. A team can be made up of a group of co-workers, students, congregation members, friends or families who raise money and walk together. Organizers encourage each team to have at least 10 people and for each member to raise at least $100.
Prizes will be awarded. Each walker who raises $100 will get an official AIDS Walk Orlando t-shirt, while the walker who collects the most money wins a trophy and prize. There will also be trophies for the team that raises the most money and for the team with the most walkers.
“We’ll have our mobile testing unit out there, and we’ll have different signs along the walk route in memory people who passed away,” Noda said. “It gets bigger and bigger every year. It’s a sad day in the fact that people have passed away, but it’s a day when people can come together.”
For more information about this event, call Noda at 407-645-2577, Ext. 111 or e-mail events@hopeandhelp.org.

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