By Alex Barhorst
Entirely East Lansing staff writer
East Lansing residents took thousands of steps to fight AIDS.
An estimated 330 people from the area participated in the LAAN AIDS walk on Sunday, Sept. 23. The Lansing Area AIDS Association, hosts the 5K walk annually to raise awareness and money for the battle against HIV and AIDS.
Started in 1985, the nonprofit organization has two main goals: getting people tested for HIV and treating individuals diagnosed with the virus.
Kirk Taskila, an East Lansing resident and medical case manager of the LAAN, said anyone who is sexually active may have HIV without knowing it.
He added that Ingham County has the highest prevalence rate of AIDS anywhere in Michigan outside of Detroit.
“I’ve had several friends diagnosed positive,” Taskila said. “We’ve seen people in stable, monogamous relationships who have found they have HIV.”
The LAAN organizes events like the AIDS walk to raise money to research a cure for HIV. Taskila said this year’s walk raised more than $15,000.
He also said the disease is still incurable, but treatment technology has come a long way in the last 30 years.
“If you get detected early and you get proper care, you don’t have to die like you did in the ’80s,” he said.
Fraternities, sororities and other groups affiliated with Michigan State University participate in the walk.
One group is the Evans Scholars,golf caddies on full scholarship at MSU because of financial need and academic success.
The caddies have been participating in the 5k since the event started, according to East Lansing resident and Evans scholar Danielle Desilets. The group assembles a walk team every year that marches down Grand River Avenue.
“Philanthropy events are part of what the Evans Scholars are all about,” Desilets said. “We’re just giving back to the community and helping people in need of assistance.”
While organized groups make up a large percentage of the 5K walkers, individuals are welcome.
Layla Hillie, another MSU student living in East Lansing, said she learned about the walk on Twitter so she clicked the link to sign up.
Her cousin, Michael Jennings, died in November, 2011, of pneumonia. His immune system was not able to fight off the illness because he had AIDS.
Hillie joined the walk to honor her deceased cousin. She said she used to go visit him in the hospital and sit by his bedside and talk with him.
“He was a really fun, spirited person. He was so goofy…he didn’t have a mean bone in his body,” Hillie said.
She added: “He never let (his illness) get him down. He was never defeated.”
The student encouraged other East Lansing residents to participate in the walk and help support the fight against HIV and AIDS. She urged people to think about other families who have loved ones suffering from the disease.
“Even though you might not have a family member affected, other people are losing family members,” Hillie said. “[AIDS] is bigger than you and your family.”