Ella Moore, 14 months old, took part in yesterday's annual AIDS Walk at Kapiolani Park. The event raised $150,000 for Life Foundation, a Hawaii organization dedicated to fighting AIDS.
AIDS Walk builds hope
The annual fundraiser, in its 16th year, marks its biggest turnout and most money raised
It has been more than 10 years since Joleen Carmichael went to the beach with her uncle and his partner, who used to sneak her junk food when her parents were not looking.
For the past 10 years, after her uncles died from AIDS, Carmichael has been walking and raising money to continue their fight for more awareness and a cure.
"I don't want more people to die of AIDS," said Carmichael, 15, a sophomore at Roosevelt High School. "I'll do this as long as I can, until there's a cure."
Carmichael walked yesterday along with about 1,500 others in the 16th Annual AIDS Walk around Kapiolani Park. It was the largest turnout and most money raised -- more than $150,000 for Life Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting AIDS in Hawaii.
Carmichael held a cardboard poster with a black-and-white photo of her uncles, James "Jim" Okarma and Day James. The poster read, "Never Stop Hoping."
The pair lived in the San Francisco area and visited Hawaii a couple of times a year, said Okarma's brother and Joleen's father, Joel Carmichael.
Much has changed in the 25 years since HIV and AIDS were recognized as an epidemic in the United States. Medication for AIDS was not as advanced as today, and more people were dying from the misunderstood disease. Now there is treatment available that allows those with HIV or AIDS to continue living long lives.
Carmichael recalls that his brother, who felt like a "guinea pig" at times, was taking up to 40 pills a day.
"We want to let people know that there are people who still have it and are fighting it, and there's still no cure for it," said Carmichael, 49. "We'll be continuing to go out there and do it. It's something I promised my brother we would be doing."
According to the Life Foundation, there are about 3,000 people in Hawaii living with HIV or AIDS. About 40,000 new infections occur each year in the United States.
About a month before the annual AIDS Walk, Joleen Carmichael mails letters to family friends across the country, asking for donations. This year, she collected $1,120. She estimates she has raised more than $10,000 over the years.
Organizers said the AIDS Walk also serves as a way to meet others connected to the disease.
"The most important reason for the AIDS Walk is for people to come out and see each other," said Life Foundation Executive Director Paul Groesbeck.
"It creates a community," added Life Foundation co-founder David McEwan, "and it saves lives."