Vail Daily column: Hard work launched Red Ribbon Project | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Hard work launched Red Ribbon Project

Barbara Bower
Valley Voices

Barbara Bower

Articles celebrating Red Ribbon Project's 20th anniversary describe the extensive programs being offered by the Red Ribbon Project for the education, awareness and support beyond HIV and AIDS concerns.

It is important that free HIV testing continues to be offered. And it is also wonderful that health classes offered in the schools are emphasizing teen pregnancy prevention and are addressing all possible risk behaviors adolescents face.

But in the early days, the founders of the Red Ribbon Project worked to get the attention and support of the community. I want to tell a little about those days.

When I attended the first meeting at Avon Public Library in 1996 of a small group of people concerned with HIV and AIDS, and we created the Red Ribbon Project, our mission was simply to provide awareness, education and support concerning HIV and AIDS. That was it. We had no money, and the subject was a sensitive one that most people not personally connected to the virus in any way preferred to ignore or avoid. We didn't know what we would do or how we would raise money. We just knew the community needed to be informed and, if there were people who had the virus, then we needed to support them.

We struggled to raise money and get attention for the cause. We needed support from businesses in the valley. I remember directing cars to park at the Thursday night rodeo in Edwards, an interesting assignment for a 63-year-old gray-haired woman. The rodeo had offered us some percentage of the income that night.

Then we started having Dine Out for Life. That was a tough challenge to meet with restaurant managers and ask them to give us a percentage of their income on a designated night. We heard about it being done in cities, but it was a new idea in Eagle County. Finding managers, getting their support, advertising the event, taking posters around town and then finding the managers again to collect the money was honestly hard. The funds raised all went back to helping people who were living with AIDS and HIV.

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We tried to participate in county events to increase the awareness of the seriousness of HIV and AIDS and of the existence of the Red Ribbon Project. I remember sitting at a table with literature about HIV and AIDS at a Cinco de Mayo in the 1990s in Edwards. People were strolling around looking at the various booths, and I would see them look at our sign and turn away. It was a new and frightening subject. The early days were difficult but satisfying because we were making progress. Thank goodness the Red Ribbon Project now has the respect and support of the community — and we are able to talk openly about taboo subjects.

Things are different in 2016. There are new treatments that make HIV and AIDS manageable and not fatal for most patients. It's easier to talk about it. But I want to remind everyone that the virus is not yet curable and has not been eliminated, as many people unfortunately think it is.

I volunteer at the Colorado AIDS Project Food Bank in Denver, and we have new clients recently diagnosed HIV positive every month. Young people seem to have the impression that, with the new treatments, they don't have to be as concerned or careful. So I congratulate and support the wonderful efforts by the Red Ribbon Project in Eagle County to keep young people informed about risky sexual behavior, good health and good social relationships.

Red Ribbon Project, its mission and its open dialogue is still very much needed.

Barbara Bower strives to make a difference to those living with AIDS and HIV. She was a founding board member of Red Ribbon Project. Today's Eagle Music Festival at The Dusty Boot supports the Red Ribbon Project.