Entirely East Lansing staff writer
The Lansing Area Aids Network hosted their annual walk to raise donations to support the network for the services it provides.
The walk helps fund services that will not be covered by the individual or their health providers. The network assists with food, transportation, housing, counseling and support, monitoring medical treatment and follow-up, HIV medical care, case management and operational services. The organization has 330 people with HIV on its caseload.
Jake Distel, executive coordinator of LAAN, said the program chose to be in East Lansing because of Michigan State University, “I think it’s important to make young people aware of the importance of the affect that it has on the community. There is an increasing number of younger people affected by AIDS . . . they have been impacted disproportionately.”
Among the children, students and families who came to support the walk were AIDS survivors and network members. Herman Young, 41, was diagnosed in 2002 and has been living with AIDS for nine years. This was his first year participating in the walk and he has been volunteering with the food pantry LAAN provides, as well as speaking at different events throughout the past year and a half.
Young said many people know about his status. “I’m very out there. Everyone that knows me knows I’m outspoken about HIV.” When he tested positive in ’02, he said his partner lied about his status, so he knew beforehand that he would test positive.
When asked about his relationship, Young said, “What can you do … I forgave him, I forgave myself.” Young was accompanied by his sister during the walk.
Amongst the younger crowd were many MSU students. R.E.A.A.L., an on-campus organization for minority women participated for the first time in the walk. Leoniece Cheeks, 20, advertising senior and president of R.E.A.A.L., said the walk was the group’s choice for its monthly community service.
“I liked that college students can come together to support such a cause, especially because AIDS does have a large effect on minority communities. To see people with AIDS come out and show that it is possible to be well and able is great because people always look at it as a death sentence,” Cheeks said.
Established 26 years ago in 1985, the Lansing Aids Area Network has participated in the walk since 1995, making this its 16th year. Distel announced during the registration that about $10,000 in donations had been made online prior to the registration. After looking over receipts toward the end of the registration period, donations are expected to be about $15,000. The AIDS Walk Michigan and LAAN site shows up-to-date online donation amounts at $10,022.
During the registration period at Valley Court Park, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., many activities were provided including tents for face painting, balloons by Klownie K, a doggie station, music, a raffle, produce from the The Farmer’s Market, as well as meals provided by the performers. Equality Band of Michigan provided breakfast, and a luncheon provided by the group Lansing OUT.
Trophies were given for the largest walk team, the highest individual fundraiser and the highest team fundraiser. The walk began at 1 p.m. and lasted until about 2 p.m. T-shirts were also given out during registration.