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Hope comes in large numbers for AIDS victims

Published Dec. 2, 1994|Updated Oct. 8, 2005

We've come a long way.

Cecilia Tucker, a professional counselor in Pinellas County for 17 years, told a World AIDS Day prayer breakfast audience Thursday about not having a single person to turn to for support when her sister was given an AIDS diagnosis in 1985. Looking out over a capacity crowd of more than 650 at the Belleview Mido Resort Hotel, she marveled at the "message of hope" this sends to those who are infected or affected by the disease.

"We are called to embrace, not to isolate," she said of those who care for AIDS victims. And she reminded the caregivers not to say, "Oh, my, they're dying" but, "Oh, my, they're living. They have so much to offer."

She said she learned from her sister "to live more fully each day. I learned to love more and to judge less. I learned to laugh. I learned to listen more."

Not only was the size of the crowd inspiring and encouraging but also its makeup. Good-size contingents from Clearwater, East Lake and Osceola high schools were present. The Clearwater High students had their own message to proclaim: "Spread education, not AIDS."

Displayed at the breakfast and at other World AIDS Day events Thursday was a "Pinellas Community Quilt" with panels representing 16 agencies involved with AIDS, including the AIDS Coalition Pinellas, Hospice, Youth & Family Connections, Operation PAR, Community Alliance of Pinellas for AIDS, Red Ribbon Homestead and St. Anthony's Hospital.

In the center of the quilt is a tree that has lost all but one of its leaves, with the message, "Don't allow AIDS to put an end to your family tree." The fallen leaves are inscribed, in eight languages, with words like mother, father, brother, sister and friend.

The quilt, which will be displayed at various schools and elsewhere, was sponsored by the Pinellas County AIDS Consortium, an umbrella group. It was designed and stitched by artists and volunteers of the HIV (positive) Guilt (negative) Art Gallery in St. Petersburg.

The consortium plans future quilts with panels dedicated to those who die of AIDS each year in Pinellas County. Monthly quilting bees will begin in January to help interested people make panels for their loved ones. Call Scott Johnson at 441-2843 for information.

Meanwhile, the public is invited to visit Ruth Eckerd Hall between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday or noon and 3 p.m. Sunday to view panels from the national AIDS quilt.

Everyone at the breakfast was encouraged to participate Saturday morning in an event on the Pinellas Trail called Ribbons Across Pinellas: Standing Together for AIDS Awareness. Organizers are hoping for more than 2,000 people to stand on the trail between Largo's Taylor Park and Seminole City Park joined by red ribbons, except at street intersections.

The best places to join the Trail crowd at 10 a.m. are Taylor Park, Ulmerton Road, Walsingham Road, 102nd Avenue and Seminole City Park. Ribbons will be joined at 10:30 to be followed by festivities in Seminole City Park with entertainment, food and information booths.

Groups participating include 160 Largo High students and delegations representing Sun Coast and Clearwater Community hospitals, Hospice and the Family Resource Center.

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