CARBONDALE — Participants, and volunteers, met early Saturday morning at the Newman Catholic Center, on 715 Washington Street, for registration, and the opening ceremony, for the 2016 Southern Illinois Aids Walk.

According to Wally Paynter, coordinator of the 19-year-old walk, the event helps more than 150 low-income households who have an individual, or individuals, suffering from HIV, or AIDS. The walk was originally started by the Southern Illinois Region Effort for AIDS.  

"Our goals are to raise awareness, (and) raise funds. We have a lot of students that walk, and don't necessarily raise money, but we have a lot of volunteers that walk, and do raise money," he explained. "We have a lot of support from the campus, and a lot of support from the community."

Regarding campus support, Thomas Moore -- a Southern Illinois, Carbondale, student and Southern Illinois AIDS Walk participant -- shared that although he participated in past walks, this year marked the first for his group, Omicron Epsilon Sigma, and alumni chapter Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Incorporated, in supporting as a sponsor.

"This time I got my alumni chapter to sponsor (the Southern Illinois AIDS Walk), and we gave a monetary donation (of $200) to support the cure for AIDS," he said. 

Also, members from Rainbow Cafe LGBT Youth Center -- a social support group for high school age gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth in Southern Illinois -- shared that they have built a strong connection supporting the walk for at least 10 years. 

"Last year we were the second top fundraising group, but this year I don't know where we are," shared Chip Loghry. 

During the opening ceremony, which took place at the Rainbow Cafe LGBT Youth Center, the group received a recognition for this year's walk as second place for groups who raised the most funds for the cause. Bluecross Blueshield received first place honors. Rainbow Cafe LGBT Youth Center meets every Friday night to offer a safe space for youth identifying as LGBT.

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Lowery and Lee Dalton, members of Church of the Good Shepard, were recognized as the top two individuals fundraising for the event and were appointed "The Curesaders" to lead Saturday's walk from Church of the Good Shepard -- they received a recognition for raising the most money. 

A special acknowledgement also went out to retired Caseworker Patricia Paynter who became the 2016 recipient of the Steven St. Julian HIV Leadership Award.

In his presentation for the award,  Joseph Brown, priest, social activist, artist, and SIUC professor said, "This woman, Ms. Paynter, has been looking at everybody as a child of God for a very long time, giving gifts to the children who are in the family of AIDS carriers. She has been fundraising for this forever."

After the acceptance of awards, the group gathered outside of the center to commence their walk.  

According to the event's coordinator, more than 200 participants showed up for the event, for which $5,171 was raised.

This is a record amount, but shy of our goal $6,000 goal," Paynter said. "

Donations are still being accepted. All proceeds will assist with the Southern Illinois AIDS Holiday Project, and the purchase of grocery gift cards for low-income families impacted by HIV, and AIDS, in the southern region.

For more information visit CarbondaleAIDSWalk.org.

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Nefeteria Brewster is a reporter covering Marion and Williamson County.

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