Richard Davis: The legacy of Ron Squires lives on

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It has been 25 years since the death of Ron Squires from AIDS. Back then a diagnosis of AIDS was a death sentence. But we have come a long way and that same diagnosis in 2017 may mean that someone has a chronic disease that requires daily medication. One of the reasons that we have made such progress is because of people like Ron's mother Shirley Squires.

After Ron's death in 1993, Shirley felt that she had to keep the memory of her son alive. He served as Vermont's first openly gay legislator, representing Guilford and Vernon and he worked to pass legislation to ban discrimination against gays and lesbians. When Ron became ill with AIDS he turned to the Brattleboro AIDS Project and they provided a great deal of support for him.

Shirley turned her feelings into action by working to help promote the work of the Brattleboro AIDS project. In 1993, shortly after Ron's death, Shirley participated in her first AIDS Project Walk for Life, an annual fundraiser. Since that first walk Shirley and her walk pledge supporters have become the largest donors to the project.

In 2016, Ron's then-85-year-old crusader mother, raised $20,726 from over 500 individuals and that brought the total amount she has raised for the AIDS Project to $300,000. She also served on the organization's board for six years and that increased her appreciation for the work they do. She feels it is important that all funds raised locally stay here to help people in this area.

When I asked Shirley what motivated her to keep walking after all these years she said, "When I first started the walks it brought Ronnie closer to me. The first walk was four months after he died." She continues to feel that closeness to her son after all of these years because she feels that she is keeping his spirit alive every time she participates in the yearly walk.

The first year that Shirley participated in the walk she went door-to-door soliciting donations and she raised $1,000. She still does a little bit of door-to-door work but most of her fundraising is done through letters of solicitation to her faithful donor base.

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The AIDS project has recently decided to honor the spirit of Shirley and Ron and that is why they have established the Ron and Shirley Squires Spirit of Service AIDS Fund to honor their commitment to AIDS awareness and public service in the local community. The AIDS Project will direct all proceeds from the fund to the critical services they provide to people with HIV, their families and to those whose behaviors put them at risk for contracting HIV.

In these difficult political times it has become more important for people to act locally if they want to make sure that local organizations continue with their work to provide valuable services to the community. Reliance on streams of federal and state dollars leaves non-profit organizations in a perpetual state of uncertainty.

The best way to remove that uncertainty is to donate to local organizations such as the AIDS Project because you can see how your dollars impact the lives of local people. By supporting Shirley and the other walkers you can make sure that a local effort continues to thrive.

Shirley's goal is $25,000 and she is not there quite yet. You can donate to her efforts by sending a check to the Brattleboro AIDS Project, 15 Grove St, Brattleboro, VT 05302 and make a note that it is for Shirley Squires walk or you can send a check made out the AIDS Project to Shirley Squires, 1890 Guilford Center Rd, Guilford, VT 05301.

All of this is background to the 30th Annual AIDS Walk for Life that will be happening in Brattleboro on Saturday, May 20, from 10 a.m. to noon. All community members are invited to participate in the walk and they are also invited to hear music by Samirah Evans, have lunch and listen to speakers at the River Garden following the walk. For more information, call the AIDS Project at 802-254-4444.

Richard Davis is a registered nurse. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at rbdav@comcast.net. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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