Walk for Life reaps $27,000 for AIDS Project

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BRATTLEBORO — Wonder how nearly 100 participants at the AIDS Project of Southern Vermont's 29th annual downtown Walk for Life raised $27,000 Saturday for area treatment and prevention efforts?

Julie van der Horst Jansen collected almost $500 by posting an internet photo of the back of her cat with the caption, "If we reach our goal, Lucky will turn around and show you his belly and his sweet smile."

Howie Peterson came up with more than $1,500 by emailing several dozen friends a link to his webpage on www.firstgiving.com and asking them "to forward this to anyone who you think might want to donate."

Then there's Shirley Squires. Soliciting 700 family members, friends and organizations statewide in memory of her son, the late Rep. Ronald Squires, D-Guilford, the 85-year-old great-great-grandmother reaped an eye-popping $20,000.

This year's event at the Robert H. Gibson River Garden on Main Street spotlighted the Project's efforts to support local people with HIV/AIDS and reduce the risk of transmission to others.

"Even though we have a lot of work to do," master of ceremonies Steve Breakstone told the audience, "we no longer think about people dying of AIDS, we think about people living with AIDS."

The Brattleboro-based nonprofit, one of three AIDS service organizations in the state, serves more than 80 clients and provides education and prevention programs in Windham, Bennington and southern Windsor counties.

To reach out to youth, this year's event featured a team of walkers from the local Boys & Girls Club, as well as the student cast of the recent Brattleboro Union High School musical "Rent" performing songs from the AIDS-related show.

"So many cameras," one student said after the audience followed up its applause by picking up their cellphones. "Where do we look?"

"Wear sunglasses," local drag performer Angel advised in fire-engine red. "You can look anywhere."

Squires, for her part, single-handedly helped the Project reach the rest of the demographic spectrum. She has gone from collecting $1,000 in her first walk in 1993 — just after her son became the first state public figure to lose his life to AIDS — to culling $12,000 on her 10th anniversary, $19,500 on her 20th, and hitting a collective total of $250,000 in 2014.

"I couldn't do this," Squires concluded, "if the people who give to me every year didn't continue to."

Kevin O'Connor is a Reformer contributor and VTDigger.org correspondent who can be contacted at kevinoconnorvt@gmail.com.


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