Chattanooga Cares has come a long way since its founding in 1986, and so has the perception of an HIV diagnosis.
The local Council on AIDS, Resources, Education and Support group that initially operated out of a car handing out condoms and discussing HIV outside Chattanooga restaurants and bars is now a recognized and respected nonprofit serving approximately 1,500 people in the Chattanooga area.
"Back in the day HIV was a really scary thing," said Chattanooga Cares Community Relations Manager David Martinez. "There were a lot of myths and people had a lot of fear. But now the myths aren't as scary. HIV patients can take one pill once a day, and because of that people aren't paying as much attention to HIV as they once were."
But according to Martinez, the community can't afford to forget about its members who have been infected with HIV.
"People with HIV can live very normal lives, but the infection doesn't go away," he said. "People are living much longer with their infection and we need assistance to assist them."
In an effort to continue providing HIV patient case management, an infectious disease and primary care clinic, free rapid HIV and hepatitis C testing and a variety of education and prevention programming, Chattanooga Cares will host its annual Strides of March fundraiser March 25.
The 5k fun run and walk will begin at Renaissance Park at 2 p.m. with registration beginning at noon. Local churches and organizations will set up booths at the park and the band Priscilla and Little Rickee will perform. Participation in the event is free and open to the public.
"We'll also be offering free rapid HIV testing at the walk and information about Chattanooga Cares," said Martinez. "Anyone is welcome to come out to the show and enjoy the day without participating in the walk."
Last year Martinez said approximately 500 people attended the event and he hopes to see that number increase this year. The organization has set a $100,000 fundraising goal, he said.
"All people need to do is visit www.chattanoogacares.org to register," said Martinez. "After registering, individuals or teams can create a FirstGiving donation page they can link to their Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn profile to help with fundraising."