Education, prevention the focus on World AIDS Day

Jessica Ryen Doyle

When Roger Smith lit a candle Saturday on World AIDS Day to remember his college roommate Bruce Kurtz, he thought to himself, "The world should not have lost him."

“He was a beautiful person,” Smith of Barneveld said at the candlelight vigil and service hosted by AIDS Community Resources at St. Mary Mt. Carmel /Blessed Sacrament Church.

Smith reflected how Kurtz, who died from AIDS complications on Smith’s birthday in March 2003, used to drive a robin-egg-blue Corvette.

“He used to come visit my family, and my kids were like, ‘Wow, he’s so cool,’” Smith said. “He literally lit up a room.”

World AIDS Day was created in 1988 as a way to create awareness for HIV and AIDS, a preventable but incurable disease, said David Podos, Mohawk Valley regional director for AIDS Community Resources.

“On the positive side, we see a new generation of medicines that been developed to help those affected live better lives,” Podos said. “The only way we can have a cure is through prevention – and the only way to prevent it is to be educated.”

Podos and his staff, along with some volunteers and community members, silently stood outside the church for a few minutes holding candles to remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS and those who continue to suffer from HIV/AIDS.

Leean Sack, 28, is the organization’s teen AIDS task force coordinator. She works with teenagers throughout the region, educating them and raising awareness.

“It’s important they get the right information,” she said. “There is a high STD rate among teenagers in Oneida County because they don’t have access to that information or the ways to protect themselves.”

Sack said she also sees a lot of the typical teenage "it can’t happen to me" behavior.

“We need to raise awareness that it does exist in our community,” Sack said. “We can’t ignore it – because these kids are our future.”

Observer-Dispatch