Growing up just north of Austin, I experiences all the sights and sounds the city had to offer. There were plenty of spins and twirls under Zilker Christmas Tree in the winter, followed by the Kite Festival in the spring, and who could forget those sizzling summers year after year. With Austin growing so fast, people who were born and raised here are now a rarity. I was always proud to call myself an original Austinite, but it would take 25 years before I was able to see what was happening in my own backyard.

The first time I can remember hearing the word “HIV” was in the TV movie starring Molly Ringwald, “Fatal Love.” I remember discussing the movie with my mom, but our conversations consisted of how unattractive 80s fashion was and not about the actual message of the movie or the disease portrayed. I was never unaware of what HIV was, but it took working at ASA for me to realize the magnitude of the impact HIV and AIDS has on our community. I was drawn to stories that detailed the fear and uncertainty when AIDS first appeared, and how the “everyday, common men (and women)” became the heroes that fought for the thousands who were dying.

Being at ASA, I am surrounded by employees, volunteers, and clients that give me perspective on the epidemic. Earlier today, I spoke with Sue, our Chief Programs Officer. Having worked in this field for many years, she reminded me that “Today signifies another day of hope that we’ll find a cure, and a reminder that it’s still out there.”

Working at ASA has not only taught me about the past of this disease, but has shined a light on the Austin community currently affected by HIV and AIDS. I didn’t truly know who the people in my own backyard were until I was able to see them through the many programs ASA provides. I see our clients living life with so much optimism and joy.

This community started with fear of the unknown, but quickly transformed fear into hope. So many people fought courageously for the strides in the treatment we have today. I am beyond proud of the population we serve at AIDS Services of Austin.

Today, on World AIDS Day, I celebrate them.

Each year the world recognizes the 1st of December as a day to commemorate the 34 million people living with this disease, and the 35 million people who have died from AIDS. The lives that have been lost to this disease are still making an impact on people worldwide, including me, and I will forever be honored to read their stories and see the impact of their fight.