Local AIDS vigil educates

Saturday, December 02
PITTSFIELD — They were small in number but the message they carried was both powerful and poignant.

The mere presence of the 15 people who gathered for a vigil at St. Stephen's Church last night in recognition of World AIDS Day put a human face on the devastating disease that has killed 25 million people worldwide since 1981.

Of the 85 reported cases of AIDS in the Berkshires this year, 43 were in Pittsfield, according to numbers compiled by the Berkshire AIDS Coalition, which has sponsored events on World AIDS Day since the mid-1980s. Coalition chairwoman Nanciellen Poulin said that the organization's statistics do not include people who may have moved to the Berkshires and contracted the disease.

She urged those in attendance to remember that the disease is powerful and does not discriminate.

"It is not a gay disease," Poulin said. "It is a personal disease, a family disease, a community disease. It's in Pittsfield, Stockbridge and Great Barrington."

She reminded those in attendance to remember the question she had posed at last year's vigil: "Who is the face of AIDS in 2006?"

"It's your sister, your mother, your father," she answered. "It's your aunt and uncle. It's your next-door neighbor."

Finally, Poulin asked those in attendance to wear a red ribbon in 2007 to show that they are aware of how AIDS has affected the Berkshires.

During an open speaker session, Joe Carter and Robb Herrmann, both of whom have had AIDS for several years, spoke at the vigil. Both men talked about the medications they have been taking and their experiences battling the disease.

"It's a hard struggle, but a struggle that we all must join," Carter said. "Unfortunately, a lot of people are under the impression that everything's under control."

"The drugs now are supposed to give you a normal life," he added. "That's not true. If you can afford them, they can help. But the side effects can slow you down."

Mayor James M. Ruberto issued a proclamation at Tuesday's City Council meeting declaring yesterday World AIDS Day in Pittsfield.

"What is important is that what you are advocating for is being heard in this community," Ruberto said last night.

Pat Wood, an HIV-AIDS case manager with the Berkshire County chapter of the American Red Cross, read the names of the 52 Berkshire County residents who have died from AIDS since 1991. Only the first names were read. Only three names have been added to that list in 2006.

Previous vigils have concluded with a candlelight walk from the East Street church to Park Square. But last night's ceremony took place inside the church because of the weather.

Those in attendance were given glow sticks, and they walked to a small chapel in the back of the church, where they placed lighted candles in a bowl filled with sand that had been placed on a chair by St. Stephen's pastor, the Rev. Hannah Anderson.

The small candles flickered in the darkness as those in attendance softly sang "Amazing Grace."


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