BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - Many people are expected to gather in East Bakersfield Saturday for the annual AIDS Walk. The event raises thousands of dollars to help fund programs and services being provided for people living with the disease.
Leaders with the Bakersfield AIDS Project uses the walk to not only educate, but pay tribute to all those people, men, women and children who have the lost the battle against AIDS.
"This is the first hospice of its kind in Kern County," said Audrey Chavez, director of the Bakersfield AIDS Project.
There isn't a day that goes by, Chavez doesn't think of her brother Ricky Montoya.
"He was the person who always gathered the family together," she said.
21 years ago, in his honor, Chavez started "Ricky's Retreat," providing AIDS hospice and transitional housing, an organization that would some how be different if Montoya was alive today.
"I don't know what it would be like if he was alive, but it would be awesome. It would be really great to have him. He's greatly missed dearly," she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 50,000 people are infected with HIV every year.
"It made me appreciate life more," said Tim Zens of Bakersfield.
Zens has lived with the disease since 2004 and remembers how bad it was before moving into hospice care.
"The cab dropped me off and my weight was 125 pounds. I got off and got onto the curb and fell because I was so weak and I spent 24 hours in bed and I didn't even get up to eat or anything," he said.
Although, treatment has advanced over the years advocates hope people continue the conversation. They want to use the AIDS Walk to promote awareness and encourage support and compassion for people living with AIDS.
"Knowledge is power and HIV has affected so many people who might have someone in your life that don't even know they are infected. Everybody needs to get tested," said Zens.
The walk honors people who have died from AIDS, those living with it and people who are HIV negative.
"Most of us don't ever think it will happen to us and so if we look at the risk factors, unprotected sex and blood to blood risk, then we have to really be realistic," said Chavez.
The three mile walk starts at Ricky's Retreat at 9am Saturday, October 5, 2013, near Jefferson Park.
Carlos is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carloscorrea23abc