Reichard, the executive director of the AIDS Fund, knows full well that the AIDS epidemic is still ongoing. Fortunately, there have been life-saving medical breakthroughs since the 1980s. However, her organization’s goal is to achieve zero new infections, zero deaths, and zero stigma.
“Most people know us as the producer of the Philadelphia AIDS Walk,” Reichard said. “But what we are doing is providing emergency financial assistance to people living with HIV when their financial crisis could turn into a health crisis.”
Another part of their mission is to raise awareness about the disease. Throughout the year, they display pieces of the AIDS Memorial Quilt at various community events. Considered the largest community art project in the world, the quilt is an ever-growing tribute to each life lost due to complications from AIDS. Today, one of the AIDS Fund’s biggest quilt mergers arose in Congregation Rodeph Shalom.
“Having worked with and having friends who are part of this community, this is very meaningful to me,” said Ellen Poster, who sits on the Board of Trustees of Congregation Rodeph Shalom.
The poster has represented members of the LGBTQ + community as lawyers for 45 years. Her congregation brought the AIDS Memorial Quilt to their halls today as another way to reach out and support this same community.
“A large percentage of our congregation is LGBTQ due to the merger with Beth Ahavah,” she said. “And the fact that we are getting closer to the gay community in Philadelphia.”
AIDS Fund volunteers and members of the congregation took turns reciting the names of those who lost their lives to illness. Massimo Lavelle was lucky enough to recognize an important person on the podium quite by accident.
“The little section I was reading was my uncle’s,” he said. “So it was quite a rare event, but also a special one.”
Lavelle’s uncle, James, and her partner, Jeff, both died of AIDS in the 1990s. Despite their prognosis, each made important contributions during their lifetime. James became an infectious disease specialist and Jeff got involved in AIDS fundraising.
To support them, Lavelle and her mother participated in the very first AIDS Walk in 1987. They have participated in every subsequent year since.
“I was a year old when the first AIDS walk was held,” Lavelle said. “He’s a beautiful role model in my life.”
Although the AIDS Memorial Quilt has only been installed for one day at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, it will not be the last time locals will see it.
“We have exhibitions coming up in recognition of World AIDS Day on December 1 and if anyone wants to have it they can call our office, ask to do an exhibition,” said Robb Reichard. “We’re happy to do it. We do it all year round.”
Reichard hopes he will continue to encourage people to stay proactive in the fight against HIV and always know their risk status.
“Today we have very good treatments for it. People can be treated and stay treated,” he said. “We can help someone live a long, healthy life with HIV. “
To find out more about the AIDS Fund, visit their website.
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