Like many people, I enjoy using Facebook to connect and reconnect with old friends. It is always enjoyable to get a glimpse into the lives of friends we may not have seen since high school. And when I saw a post by my old friend Jeffrey Smith announcing his ambition to complete a four-day, 300 mile bicycle ride to raise support for those living with HIV/AIDS, I wanted to know more. He graciously agreed to answer some of my questions about his ride and his involvement in supporting those who live with this terrible disease.
Laurie: Tell me a bit about your volunteering experience. What prompted you to get involved?
Jeffrey: My history of involvement with this ride is a bit unusual. I was the Volunteer Services Coordinator for the AIDS Network in Madison, Wisconsin for three years. Even after I left to work for a larger service, my heart remained with the staff, volunteers, and clients of the Madison Network. I had always worked to support the riders in this event, but I never thought I could do a four-day, 300 mile bike ride. However, I am turning 45 this summer and felt that it was time to challenge myself with a new goal while helping persons living with HIV/AIDS in a more hands on, volunteer manner than in the roles I fill in my day-to-day work with HIV prevention.
Laurie: How does this ride work? Is it similar to Walk for Life? How many people are typically involved?
Jeffrey: This ride is produced by the ride coordinator of the AIDS Network, along with a ten person planning committee made up of riders, crew members, community members, and clients. In order to participate, each rider must raise a minimum of $1,200.00. The Network recruits Crew volunteers to assist in every facet of the ride, from running pit stops that provide snacks, water, sports drinks, and meals, to transporting riders to pit stops where they can rest and re-charge before resuming their ride. In addition Caboose riders, the strongest riders, are at the “back of the pack” to bring the riders home each evening. The goal of the Network Crew is to provide all the support the riders need in order to complete the ride.
Laurie: What type of work will our donations help fund?
Jeffrey: Resources to support persons living with HIV/AIDS are becoming increasingly scarce. Funds from the ACT Ride help fill the gaps left by government and public funding. The support is used to provide access to medical and dental care, housing assistance, food pantry, mental health treatment, treatment for addiction, and medication adherence support.
Laurie: What are some of the things you think every person needs to know and understand with regard to HIV/AIDS?
HIV/AIDS isn’t over. Medicines are available to treat those living with the disease, but there is no cure. In addition, medicines are very expensive, and very few people have insurance to cover them. The drugs have side effects that make it difficult to take them on a regular basis. In addition, homelessness, mental health issues, and other factors add another level of difficulty in keeping those living with this disease in treatment. Some populations are seeing an alarming increase in new cases, such as African Americans, who have been hit disproportionately by the epidemic. Although they make up less than 14 percent of the U.S. Population, African Americans make up 44 percent of all new infections. This community is often plagued with lower incomes and higher unemployment, and as a result they do not have the same access to treatment.
Regardless of the stereotypes that still exist, HIV/AIDS does not discriminate based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. White gay males, drug users, and prostitutes are still thought to be the face of AIDS, and these stereotypes make it easy to think of the disease as someone else’s problem. However, anyone can get aids, from elderly men and women to teens, the rich and poor, the homeless and the wealthy. Anyone who does not take proper precautions is susceptible. The stigma that is still attached to HIV/AIDS, which is exacerbated by lack of knowledge about how the disease is transmitted, also creates a taboo that often prevents people from talking about treatment or getting tested.
Laurie: Besides donations, how can the everyday person help with this cause?
Jeffrey: The key to prevention is education and awareness. Of all the messages delivered above, the two easiest and most important ways to help prevent HIV involve the following:
- Condoms – This controversial and often taboo topic must be talked about to stop the spread of HIV; teaching people to use latex condoms with each and every sexual contact. While abstinence is still the best option, the reality is that many people are still going to have sex and should be educated about how to protect themselves.
- Testing – People should be tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime. If you aren’t tested for it, you don’t know if you have it! The CDC recommends that health providers test for HIV/AIDS as part of routine physical exams between the ages of 13 and 64. If HIV testing is part of standard medical practice, you take away the stigma.
I was not at all surprised that my old high school friend Jeffrey was involved in this type of endeavor. I still have fond memories of his kindness and friendship during the decade of big hair, Michael Jackson, and shoulder pads. Sadly, it was also during that decade that we first began to really learn about the devastating and tragic disease that is HIV/AIDS. I knew from his first post that I not only wanted to know more, but that I wanted to donate to this cause. If any of my readers would like to donate to this ride, you may do so using the link below:
The above link will help my friend Jeffrey reach his $1,200.00 goal. There is also a link to print out a paper form to submit a donation by mail. If you wish to make a general donation to the ride, there is a link to donate to “Rider Zero,” which represents those lost to HIV/AIDS