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The AIDS Walk Orlando
, benefiting the programs of the Hope and Help Center of Central Florida, is celebrating its nineteenth year and once again the participants will be raising money for life-saving support and treatment for the thousands of people affected by HIV and AIDS in Orange, Seminole, Lake and Osceola Counties.

Over 2,000 people from all across Central Florida participated last year, and event organizers expect even more people to attend the walk this year. On-site registration will begin at 7:30 a.m. and the walk will start at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 29 at the Walt Disney World Amphitheatre at Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando. This year’s path will take the walkers on a 1.86-mile circuit through the downtown area.

aidswalkorlando_ahdnsAs of press time, over $55,000 in donations have been raised for Hope and Help. Last year, $150,000 was raised and there’s a great chance this year’s final tally will top that amount. People can participate as part of an existing team, they can create a new team, or walkers can participate solo. Even if you can’t participate and you’d just like to wish Hope and Help well in their endeavors this year, you can make a donation via the AIDS Walk Orlando website. To join a team, sign up solo, or donate, go to aidswalkorlando.org. To volunteer at the event, e-mail a request to volunteers@hopeandhelp.org.

Hotspots Magazine is honored to be a media sponsor of AIDS Walk Orlando, in conjunction with WKMG Local 6, Watermark, Rainbow 411 and the NewsGayper. Other sponsors include Parliament House, Bright House Networks, Perfumeland Megastore, Suntrust Foundation, Walgreens, Quest Diagnostics, The Commons at Orlando Lutheran Towers, AON Hewitt, Wyndham Hotels Diversity Program, MBA Orlando and Orlando Fringe Theatre Festival.

We were lucky to get the chance to talk to Hope and Help Center events manager Christopher Hessler in an exclusive Hotspots interview about the AIDS Walk and Hope and Help’s goals.

People participate in the walk for various reasons. What story has impacted you the most?

I have had several friends over the years who have, for one reason or another, needed the services of Hope and Help. I saw how the agency would always be there to provide whatever aidswalkorlando_1support a friend needed. I knew that I would always do what I could to make sure the agency always had the resources they needed to provide for anyone in the community that needed it. With our the help providing by Hope and Help, people that I care about would not be here today, alive and healthy. There is also a brother, and friend, who lost his sister to AIDS. He, his family and his friends walk and raise money every year in her honor, making sure that her name never fades away but is instead used as a reminder that we still have work to do. One of the greatest moments in AIDS Walk Orlando is that moment of kick-off. Everyone is there for one single cause. The walk represents celebrating the great advances in HIV treatment, honoring those who have been lost in the fight and celebrating alongside those who are winning in the fight.

Can you outline what Hope and Help does with the money raised by the walkers at AIDS Walk Orlando?

Hope and Help is very proud that 90 cents of every dollar raised goes to client services. AIDS Walk Orlando is the agency’s second largest fundraiser of the year. We rely on this walk in order to continue providing life-saving services to those in need in Central Florida. Last year, Hope and Help experienced a shortfall of $560,000 in unfunded mandates, meaning money raised from events like AWO help cover the shortfalls of federal funding. We would have no choice but to turn away those in need if we relied solely on federal grants.

What else do you feel people should know about the aims of the Hope and Help Center?

The fight is not over. People are living healthier and longer lives. This is a wonderful celebration; the other side of that is that a person’s care is lasting longer. Being HIV-positive and healthy does not mean that medical expenses go away, it simply means our need for support is becoming greater every year.

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