Richard Davis: The AIDS Walk helps local people

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Some people use social media sites such as Go Fund Me to raise money, but the AIDS Project of Southern Vermont (APSV) has Shirley Squires and she has proven to be a fundraising force to be reckoned with over her 26 years of work for the organization.

To date, Squires has raised $336,000 for the organization. Last year she raised $26,000 and has set a goal of $24,000 this year with the hope of reaching a 26 year total of $350,000. Squires pushes ahead every year to preserve the memory of her son Ron, who was the first openly gay legislator in Vermont.

On Saturday, May 19, APSV will hold its 31st annual walk. People will gather at the River Garden on Main Street in Brattleboro and take a short jaunt up and down the center of town. The 87-year-old Squires has lost little of the same energy that prompted her to start raising money for APSV after Ron died of AIDS 26 years ago.

In honor of Ron and his tireless mother Shirley, the APSV has created the Ron & Shirley Squires Spirit of Service AIDS Fund to celebrate the spirit of service exemplified by their lives. The fund supports direct services to people living with HIV and prevention services to people at risk of contracting HIV.

According to a description of the fund published by the APSV, "The Squires family has lived for many generations in Guilford, Brattleboro and surrounding towns. From 1991 to 1993 Ron Squires served as state representative from Guilford and Vernon. Ron became Vermont's first openly gay legislator and during his tenure he fought to end gay-related discrimination in Vermont. Under his impassioned encouragement Vermont became the fourth state to pass legislation banning discrimination against gay men and lesbians in 1992. Ron died of AIDS-related illness after being sworn in to a second legislative term in 1993."

Over the past few decades AIDS has become a chronic illness for most people. Because of activism and fundraising efforts such as those of APSV, more and more HIV positive people have been able to live relatively normal lives with the expectation that they may not progress to AIDS.

Despite this good news there is still a lot of work to be done, according to APSV. They have noted that, "More than 50,000 people in the United States become infected with HIV each year and young people need information and support to help lower their risks."

In addition, people at risk of HIV are already marginalized by society and they need advocates.

The work of APSV continues to provide supportive advocacy that includes helping people access vital medications, health care and other services. Advocacy also means providing the kind of support that people living with HIV and their families need.

According to the Vermont Department of Health, "Today, people with HIV can live longer with this infection, with a better quality of life, than ever before. For this to be true, they should begin medical care and start treatment as soon as they are diagnosed. When people with HIV visit their health care provider regularly and take their medicine as directed, they'll keep their viral load (the amount of HIV in the blood) as low as possible. A consistent low viral load can keep people with HIV healthy for many years, and a low viral load greatly reduces the risk of transmitting the virus to others."

That means that all of us do better when organizations such as APSV are able to continue to do the vital work that they do.

All of the funds raised on May 19 will be used locally to benefit people in the Brattleboro and Bennington areas. If you want to help Shirley Squires meet her goal this year you can send a donation to her at 1890 Guilford Center Road, Guilford, VT 05301 and make checks out to AIDS Project.

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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