World AIDS day comes to Central Florida

World AIDS Day was held this past Thursday on several Valencia campuses and across central Florida in conjunction with the global effort that began in 1988 to raise awareness of the disease and to show support to those living with the virus, as well as those who have died from it.
Valencia’s Winter Park campus showed their support by having an event to make the students aware of the danger this virus still poses to the area.
“AIDS and HIV are still a concern for young students,” said Rachel Mahant, peer educator with the Winter Park campus. “Sometimes young adults don’t make the wisest decisions and we want to get the word out that they need to be protected.”
Students had the opportunity to play Jeopardy trivia and had information pamphlets and condoms handed out to encourage sage sex practices and education.
Across Orlando at Valencia’s East Campus, students had an event brought to them by the Gay/Straight Alliance to promote better education and protection from AIDS/HIV, as well as programs available in the Orlando area if a student found out they were HIV positive and didn’t know where to go.
“We want to let the students know that it is important to get tested at least every six months to a year,” Jeremy Sharp, GSA vice-president explained. “This disease is not a death sentence like it use to be and there are programs that can help if you find out that you do have it.”
As the music rang out across the campus, Sharp and the rest of the GSA handed out brochures, red ribbons, and condoms to encourage the students of Valencia to stay informed and to be safe.
Neither campus was offering testing during the events, but Sharp advised that there are many places in Central Florida that have free HIV testing. “The Center on Mills Ave, Hope and Help, The Miracle of Love, and Planned Parenthood are just a few of the places in the area that will test you for free. It’s as easy as Googling it or talking to one of the campus councilors.”
The first Worlds AIDS Day was held in 1988 and is the first ever global health day. Since its inception, Dec. 1 has been a day of remembrance and preaching acceptance of those living with this virus. In its 23 years, a World AIDS Day event had not been scheduled in Osceola County; until this year.
For the first time, a county event was held at the Osceola Public Library and was sponsored by a new, local organization known as FACES Community. The organization, which stands for Fighting AIDS, Collaborating to Educate Society, was created by a council of both HIV positive and negative people from the Osceola area and was spearheaded by local radio talk show host Eugenia Nova.
The awareness outreach event started with the lighting of the candles in honor of those living with HIV, those lost to it and a moment of silence. Nova spoke to the attendees about the importance of events like these.
“If this disease affects one person in your neighborhood, then it affects the entire community.” The event was filled with singing, dancing, and skits meant to inspire and educate on the importance of acceptance of those with AIDS/HIV. “We all have faces,” Nova said. “We all have hearts. We are here to lift the stigma placed on positive people.”
The event also included the reading of the official proclamation naming Dec. 1 as World AIDS Day in Osceola County and a tribute was done in the honor of one of the county’s leading voices of AIDS/HIV awareness in Central Florida, Jessica Szymczyk.
Szymczyk is a mental health counselor and has been fighting the fight against AIDS/HIV in Central Florida for more than 20 years. “AIDS is not like it use to be,” Szymczyk said, “People are living longer with it and living productive, happy lives. They aren’t any different than anyone else.”
AIDS/HIV is currently affecting 1.2 million Americans and every nine and a half minutes a person is being newly infected. “This is why it is so important to get tested,” explained Szymczyk. “You must know your status so you can protect those you are intimate with and protect yourself.” Outside of the event the Hope and Help Center was providing free HIV testing to those who wanted to know their status.
Florida is currently the third most infected state and the number of cases has been steadily increasing since the 1990s. “Look to your left, now look to your right,” Nova said. “Look at the faces around you. There are both positive and negative people in this room and you can’t tell any of them apart. Know your partner, know your status, and keep protected.”
For more information or for a free, confidential testing area contact the Hope and Help Center at 407-645-2577 or visit their website at “The Healing Touch” with Eugenia Nova can be heard on 1220 AM radio Sunday evenings from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.