Vail Daily column: Progress made in 20 years |

Vail Daily column: Progress made in 20 years

Beth Reilly
Valley Voices
Franklin Reilly stands in front of the AIDS quilt.
Special to the Daily |

In April, I took my eldest son to visit colleges on the East Coast. At Middlebury College, displayed in the library, was a section of the AIDS quilt. The AIDS quilt has 48,000 panels memorializing those who have died from AIDS. The most recent time the quilt was displayed in its entirely was in 1996, when the memorial quilt covered the entire national mall in Washington D.C.

We went to see the quilt display. We wanted to reflect on the quilt and recall our own efforts to prevent AIDS and promote sexual health. A quote on the section of the quit reads, “How many deaths will it take until they know that too many people have died?” Twenty years ago, a small group of individuals met in Eagle County to consider this question and out of this meeting the Red Ribbon Project was formed.

The Red Ribbon Project became part of an international movement to address the AIDS crisis. The Red Ribbon Project’s efforts have been primarily locally focused, providing free HIV testing, condom distribution and age-appropriate education and skill building to local youth. Several years ago, the Red Ribbon Project expanded its mission to include all components of sexual health.

As I reflect on the Red Ribbon Project’s 20th anniversary in Eagle County, I think of all the progress that has been made through our collective efforts. For those who can access medications, HIV has become a chronic illness instead of a death sentence. Numbers of new infections are decreasing. Our culture has become more accepting and stigma around HIV and sexual health issues has decreased.

Locally, incidences of HIV infection remain very, very low. HIV testing is accepted and nearly routine. Teen births have been reduced dramatically. Hundreds of youth have participated in Red Ribbon Project’s education and skill-building activities. These have resulted in delayed sexual activity and increased condom use.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

I hope that not only have I prepared my children to make good decisions and reduce risk behavior, but I hope I also taught them empathy, the importance of being involved in positive social change and the value of health equity. As a longtime volunteer for the Red Ribbon Project, my children have participated in multiple fundraising and awareness events, met those afflicted with HIV and even assisted with condom distribution.

As I prepare to send my son to college, I can hardly believe that the last full display of the AIDS quilt was before his birth. The movement, the activism and the passion to end AIDS has created a next generation of youth with a brighter future. Happy anniversary, Red Ribbon Project. For Red Ribbon Project’s 40th anniversary, maybe my son will write the anniversary letter and will remember lives lost and be able to celebrate the end of AIDS forever.

Beth Reilly is a former board member and a longtime volunteer with the Red Ribbon Project. The Red Ribbon Project is celebrating 20 years since its founding in 1996. Visit for more information or to make a donation.

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