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Orange County

Taking Strides to Fight AIDS

Organizers estimate 15,000 people turn out at UC Irvine to raise $725,000 for prevention and support services.

June 02, 2003|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

Rossy Jones can be very persuasive.

"This has become my mission, almost like my own ministry," said Jones, close to tears as she talked about her son Eliot, who died of AIDS 10 years ago. He was 33. "I did a lot of begging."

The retired Laguna Beach resident was one of the top individual fund-raisers for the 17th AIDS Walk Orange County, calling on friends, family and neighbors. They contributed almost $13,000.

Walk organizers estimated about 15,000 participants raised $725,000 for AIDS prevention and support services by gathering pledges and walking 5K and 10K routes around UC Irvine on Sunday morning. About 5,000 more walkers showed up this year than in 2002.

Walk spokeswoman Allison Cato said 9/11-related philanthropy attracted so much money last year that AIDS was pushed to the side. "This year, I think people are back in the swing of things and realizing that AIDS is a worthy cause," she said.

Since AIDS Walk began in 1987, the event has raised more than $10 million for agencies that provide food, housing, medical care, education and other services to those afflicted by AIDS in Orange County.

Jones has raised almost $50,000 in the last five years, making her one of the top individual fund-raisers.

"She only takes a couple months off, and then she's at it again, mailing out her fliers," said Frank Romero, director of special events for the AIDS Walk. "She's very persistent without rubbing people the wrong way. And she has that charisma about her that makes you want to listen to her."

Orange County has reported more AIDS cases than 25 states, ranking 28th among 100 U.S. metropolitan areas with 500,000 or more residents. Walk organizers estimate that there are close to 10,000 people in Orange County living with HIV. From 1981 to 2001, 5,970 Orange County cases of AIDS were reported to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"This is the real killer, and guns and handcuffs can't take care of this one," Sheriff Michael S. Carona, this year's honorary chairperson, said of AIDS.

Pearl Jemison-Smith, co-chairwoman of the walk, said she fears the media have been concentrating too heavily on SARS and not enough on AIDS.

"SARS is the disease du jour," Jemison-Smith said.

According to the CDC, 40,000 more people in the U.S. are infected each year with HIV. Half the patients are younger than 25, Jemison-Smith said.

"So the message that this is a deadly disease is still not getting out," she said.

Carol Holcomb showed up wearing a cap of the world-champion Anaheim Angels, thinking the karma couldn't hurt.

"Hopefully, there can be a cure," she said. "Last year, the Angels proved that anything can happen."

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