Columbus--Last year�s AIDS Walk Central Ohio was held in weather awful enough to make one ill. This year the weather cooperated with a sunny day and mild gusts of wind to make the walk pleasant and comfortable.
The venue for the May 1 walk and festival was the Battelle Plaza in front of the Blue Jackets� Nationwide Arena.
This is the second year that this location was used, and unlike last year, more was done to make it feel like a festival. A large stage was set up at one end, giving the environment an intimacy not achieved at the previous location, Bicentennial Park.
Jim Olive and Rodney Sweigart came to the walk with their 8-month-old son Bryce Olive to support the cause in hopes that �the disease is eventually eradicated,� Jim Olive said.
�We have friends who are positive and we are marching to support them too,� he added.
Olive, Sweigart and their son were marching with the Ohio LGBT Alumni group, a coalition of out alums from Ohio State University, Miami University and Ohio University.
Michael Lee, who also marches every year, raising money from friends and colleagues, said that he was there because �events like this are inspirational and beneficial.� He said he was glad for the better weather this year and wished for a day �when these events would no longer be necessary.�
Laurie Weltlin, executive director of Project Open Hand Columbus was there to march as well as represent her agency, one of the beneficiaries of this year�s AIDS Walk and 5K Run.
�I really hope for more awareness and more prevention,� she said.
Weltlin added that her agency, which provides meals for people with AIDS, has seen an increase in needs in the past year and a decrease in funding. �It�s not just HIV that is a problem, but poverty as well.�
While roughly 480 people registered for the walk, an estimated 2,000 participated in the festival.
Columbus AIDS Task Force executive director Aaron Riley, who is a member of the executive committee for the walk, said that preliminary figures on the web site put donations at over $119,000 and rising.
The benefiting agencies this year were Camp Sunrise, the Columbus AIDS Task Force, the Delaware County AIDS Task force, Family AIDS Clinic and Educational Services, the Ohio AIDS Coalition, Pater Noster House, Project Open Hand, the Tobias Project and the Woodlands AIDS Task Force.
The event was emceed by three prominent supporters of the GLBT community, all from the major network affiliates: Andrea Campbern, news anchor for WBNS Channel 10, out weatherman Chris Bradley from WSYX Channel 6, and Colleen Marshall, news anchor for WNBC Channel 4.
Marshall, while addressing the crowd, asked her teenage daughter Shannon to come up on stage.
�You know when I started supporting this cause,� Marshall said, �Shannon was in diapers. Now, Chris here has a little one who is in diapers. Could we please be done with this disease? It has been too long. It has been long enough.�
Andrea Campbern asked for a moment of silence to remember Dr. Robert J. Fass, in whose memory the walk is named, and all those who are gone from or living with HIV and AIDS. Fass was the director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Ohio State University.
Bradley led the crowd in a quick stretch before the Columbus Flaggots and the Pride Marching Band pepped up the audience with an upbeat musical and flag throwing routine. The band then started the march officially by playing Nancy Sinatra�s hit �These Boots Are Made For Walkin�.�
After the march, the festival continued at the Battelle Plaza with bands and other entertainment through the evening. Free HIV testing was available through the Ohio Department of Health along with a children�s entertainment area and other conveniences for the crowd.
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