Annual AIDS Walk event held at Ricky’s Retreat in Bakersfield

Christina Benavides, Reporter

Locals gathered at Ricky’s Retreat in East Bakersfield on Oct. 14 to support Bakersfield’s AIDS Project Annual AIDS Walk that has been on-going for over a decade.

Walkers walk 3 miles, each mile having significance. The first mile is in remembrance of those who have passed away, the second mile is for those still living, and the third mile is for education prevention and the end to stigma. Some walkers were sponsored by their family and friends to help raise money for Bakersfield’s AIDS Project.

BAP is a non-profit organization that has been around for 25 years with the help of volunteers and local donations. The house is named in memory of BAP’s beloved Ricky R. Montoya who passed away of AIDS on Dec. 7, 1992. Since 1993 the Montoya family and volunteers have been providing housing and other helpful services for local persons with AIDS in Kern County.

The event was hosted by Phillip Castro, Administrative Assistant, Audrey Chavez, Director, and Janessica Sanchez, Treasurer, at BAP. The event was held at 9 a.m. and walkers spoke before the walk about their reasoning for coming out and walking with BAP. Many said that they were there to support their loved ones who have passed away or are walking because someone they know is currently dealing with AIDS or HIV.

One local walker and BC Student, Alex Rinaldi, 21, decided to join the AIDS Walk this year for the first time to support a friend. He spoke about the stigma surrounding AIDS.

Rinaldi mentioned that the stigma stems from ignorance. He adds that some people think that because someone is infectious, it also means it is a deadly disease and they should not be around them.

Rinaldi believes that there is a common misconception that AIDS is contagious just from skin to skin contact. In addition to volunteering with BAP, he adds that he volunteers for the Bakersfield Burrito Project, which is also a non-profit organization that helps feed the homeless every Sunday.

A group of people walked down Union Avenue holding pictures of loved ones, including Transgender Pride flags, LGBT Pride flags, and American Flags. Although, one local honked their horn and proceeded to throw up a middle finger to walkers, everyone continued to walk with pride and smiles on their faces to support BAP. Castro mentioned that this experience was an example of how fresh the Stigma is today.

“I did not really notice it until after I was waving and smiling at them but I would still do the same regardless because it’s nice to still be proud of who you are and what we represent,” Castro said.

This experience did not outweigh the support from other locals who saw BAP walking and helped them finish strong by smiling or waving as walkers circled back to Ricky’s Retreat.

Castro also added that the conversation of sex needs to be discussed and that it is not a word we should be afraid of.

“It’s very important that we have those open conversations no matter if they are in our school, our workplace, at our homes, in our churches,” Castro said.

He mentioned that due to our statistics, many people are having sex and conversation will definitely bring awareness on the subject of AIDS and HIV. BAP is important to Castro because he lost two uncles to AIDS and he believes his mission in life is to make sure they are remembered. He found the organization when they came to his High School and it drew him to volunteer with BAP, and he has been volunteering ever since.

BAP did receive support during the AIDS Walk, however they are always in need of volunteers and anyone can offer support aside from events.

Anyone interested in donating or volunteering with BAP is encouraged to contact Audrey Chavez at 661-742-3611 and Phillip Castro at 661-377-4909. Any additional information can also be found by visiting their website at Donations are strongly encouraged and needed to help continue providing services for local persons with AIDS.