Southern Utah to Hold AIDS Walk, Dance-a-Thon

To raise funds for its free HIV rapid testing program the HIV/AIDS Task Force of Washington County in partnership with Southern Utah Pride at Zion and resort Kayenta will be holding an AIDS Walk and Dance on May 31 complete with prize drawings, performances and fun.

As the Southwest Utah Public Health Department currently does not offer testing for STDs, local organizations – many of them private entities – have stepped up to offer testing for such STDs as gonorrhea and chlamydia, rates of which have skyrocketed in Utah over the past few years. The Task Force, which handles the majority of HIV testing outside of private doctors’ offices, offers its rapid HIV tests on the second Saturday of each month at the Doctor’s Free Clinic in St. George. And with no money from the Utah Department of Health to purchase the test kits, events like the AIDS Walk and Dance, said Southern Utah Pride President Chris McArdle, are key in keeping this service around.

“It’s tough,” said McArdle, who along with Kayenta’s Matt Martin serves as the Walk’s organizer. “I think people would just rather not address it because [they don’t think HIV] is a problem in Utah. Our kids don’t do things like this, it’ll affect other people not us. That mentality has got to stop.”

Although cases of HIV and AIDS are significantly less in Southern Utah than they are in densely populated Northern Utah, the Task Force still estimates that it tests about 5 people each month, according to The Spectrum. Additionally, Task Force President Ruthann Adams told the paper that several people in the area may be living with HIV and not know it.

“We feel there are about another 100 or so people who have not been diagnosed, which is the main reason we offer free testing,” she said.

According to McArdle, the rapid testing kits the Task Force uses cost $11 and anyone who wishes to walk must sponsor at least one kit. Those who contribute an in gratitude donation of $22 will get coffee and a Danish before the walk. Those who sponsor four kits will be entered in the raffle drawings, and those who sponsor 10 kits will be allowed to participate in the dance-a-thon. Those who sponsor 50 or more tests are referred to as “angel sponsors” and will get recognition on the Task Force’s Web site and in the Walk’s publications.

McArdle said he hopes that the walk will raise at least $20,000 for the Task Force. To do this, he added that he and other walk volunteers have invited all of Southern Utah’s public service organizations to attend, including the local health department. Volunteers have also collected donations of several stunning raffle prizes, including packages at Red Mountain Spa and the Inn at Entrada, theatre tickets and art gallery gift certificates. According to an email written by Martin DJ Johnny Star Rocket has also agreed to provide music for the walk and the dance, which will take place in the evening. Author Sharon Lund, who contracted HIV from her ex-husband in 1983, will also speak at the walk.

However, McArdle and Martin have stressed that they still need volunteers to set up tables, direct parking and collect donations. More raffle prizes are also needed.

“We have had good response from personal friends, acquaintances,  and others I have asked to get involve and help – so now it is really up to the rest of our community and supporters to raise the money,” Martin wrote. “I think this year’s response will determine if these grass root fundraising efforts should continue or not.”

McArdle also said that he hopes people will show up to offer both moral and financial support to the event.

“The weather’s pefect for this,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

To sponsor tests at any time before or after the event, mail checks (made out to the HIV/AIDS Task Force of Washington County) to HIV/AIDS Task Force of Washington County c/o Southern Utah Pride, PO Box 411 St. George, UT 84771. For more information on the walk or on sponsoring, contact Task Force president Ruthann Adams at (435) 674-1005 or McArdle at (435) 652-8077 or email walkdance2008@gmail.com.

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