May 3 marks the 18th annual AIDS Walk fundraiser to benefit the AIDS Task Force of Northeast Indiana.
This year the task force's new director, Jeff Markley, said the agency would change up the event a little. For the first time the AIDS Task Force will host cocktail party and silent auction at the Wunderkammer Art Gallery 6-9 p.m. the night before the walk. The walk this year is being moved up to a 9 a.m. Saturday registration at Headwaters Park East with the walk starting at 10:15 a.m. and ending at 1 p.m. This will allow participants to plan other activities on that Saturday as well.
The walk will have an opening ceremony at 10:10 a.m. Mayor Henry will deliver a proclamation. The Soul Kitchen will be there with food, and Calhoun Street Soups, Salads, & Spirits will also be on hand with muffins and mimosas; coffee will also be available. There will be fire dancers for entertainment and activities for kids, like face painting. There will be cheerleaders stationed along the route to cheer people on.
“We are trying to make it vibrant, exciting and fun and raise a lot of awareness for the agency and the work that's being done here,” Markley said.
Each year the walk is the nonprofit's largest fundraiser. This year they are going with the “Paint the Town Red” theme. They are joining forces with the Wunderkammer Gallery and the Downtown Improvement District to get some funding for artwork on the sidewalks at intersections along the route. It will go up a week before the walk.
Markley, who has been on the job now for six months, said the task force is no longer in the business of helping people to die. The focus is on HIV wellness. Studies have proved, Markley said, that the sooner people are diagnosed and placed on antiviral therapy the better their chances for a long life.
“The chances of their living a full extended life is only a little less than for people who are not HIV positive,” Markley said.
With new medications many people only have to take one pill a day with few or no side-effects. As long as they stay on their medication they can suppress their viral load to an undetectable level, Markley said.
That is where the task force comes in, helping people get early testing, educating them on what it means to be HIV positive and connecting them with the services they will need if they are HIV positive. Through the agency's support and education programs clients learn to treat, adapt and maintain their lives. To get tested is a win-win situation. It can help those who test positive to get early intervention and by doing so allows them to take proactive steps in not spreading the disease to others in the population.
“Because people no longer see a 'typical' AIDS patient anymore they may think there is no longer a need, but there is. We are still serving over 400 clients a year,” Markley said.
Unfortunately the cost of the medication is still very high as is the labwork and many of the AIDS Task Force clients live at or below poverty level. One of the many services the task force provides their clients is a food pantry. Markley said he hadn't realized how great the need was for the service until he came on board as director.
The new Affordable Care Act has helped people from being denied medical treatment. But poverty is still a problem for their long-term clients.
“It has been a time of change and uncertainty,” Markley said, referring to the new national healthcare reform act.
There have also been changes in medical insurance at the state level. They were able to get over half their clients enrolled into the state's market system program. But costs have been different for different people. Some clients have seen their deductible go up, which creates a financial burden.
“We try to assist with that if we can,” Markley said.
Markley said the agency might be able to pay for a new client's first labwork and his or hers initial appointment with an infectious disease doctor.
The AIDS Task Force serves clients in 11 northeast Indiana counties. It has 18 employees and a budget of close to $1 million a year. It's not just a grassroots organization of volunteers, Markley said.