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I’ve been participating the AIDS Walk for a few years now and I have never been asked why I participate.

My father and mother told me when I was in the second grade that my dad had HIV and, being so young, I did not understand what that meant. As I got older, I started to gradually become a little more educated on the virus, as I would see it on TV and would hear about it along with watching my father’s body change. My mother left my father and our home during my 3rd or 4th grade; my father was left to raise me, my brother and sister on his own. I am the youngest, while my brother is nine years older and my sister is five years older than I. I have the best memories with my father before and during his last years.

I thank my father so much for teaching me many things, even though he was struggling with his last years always being sick and having no energy. With my brother and sister being much older, I had nothing in common with them, so I was always glued to my dad. My dad was always my rock. He made sure to teach me many things before his passing. He taught me how to fix things around the house.

My dad had the ultimate men’s garage. Pegboards full of hanging tools! He taught me how to use a drill, screw drivers, wrenches and hammers. How to repair broken drawers, sand walls and so much more! He taught me how to do my laundry at eight years old. I thank him for teaching me how to use the washing machine and dryer at that age. I thought I was the coolest kid!

He taught me how to mow and edge a lawn and use a weed wacker. Many kids on our block were riding bikes and playing while I was right by my dad’s side doing yard work; not because I had to, but because I wanted to. And I enjoyed it! My dad use to always tell me as long as the yard looks good, your house will look good.

Then by the end of my 5th grade year in elementary, my dad’s health started to diminish. My father had set me up with a counselor in an APLA program, which I fondly talk about whenever it comes up. It helped me in so many ways. I was around children that were going through the same thing I was going through and it made me feel normal and not alone. They took us to a dream Halloween one year and it was the best experience ever. We had group counseling as well as one on one. They took us on a little trip to children’s hospital to visit sick children. My counselor was Colleen Green and she helped me so much; I am so grateful for her.  So I was promoted from 5th grade to 6th grade and that summer was his last summer with us; he was in and out of the hospital and getting so fragile. My second or third week I believe of 6th grade my father passed. We lost him, as he had caught pneumonia, and since his immune system was shot, there was no chance of him getting better. We lost our father at 37.

My father’s personality would light a room up! I named my team “Team Teddy & Pepe” because my husband’s uncle is Pepe and he too passed from HIV. Although I never met him, I still Walk for him as well.  I Walk in honor of my father, uncle Pepe, for all the many lost loved ones and for the many loved ones still fighting this battle; I Walk in honor of AIDS PROJECT LOS ANGELES (now known as APLA Health) and all they do for the many individual’s lives they have touched. They are my reason for walking this Walk. “Team Teddy & Pepe” walks with pride and our heads held high!