OAKLAND -- For the past 11 years on President's Day weekend, the Pediatrics AIDS Coalition at UCLA has organized a 26-hour "dance marathon" to raise funds and educate community members about pediatric HIV and AIDS and acknowledge the battle of children suffering from AIDS.
This year, Montclair's own Zoe Filippenko will participate in the event on Saturday and Sunday. Filippenko, along with thousands of other dancers, will take a literal stand against HIV/AIDS by pledging to stand on her feet for 26 hours straight. Filippenko, now a sophomore at UCLA, is an East Bay native and a graduate of Skyline High School.
Since its inception in 2002, Dance Marathon (DM) has aimed to empower the UCLA campus and community in the fight against pediatric AIDS. The event is host to live music, appearances by celebrities and activists and has raised a total of $3 million in its history. In 2012, DM gathered more than 3,000 supporters and grossed $450,000 in donations.
Calling on friends and family, dancers raise at least $250 dollars each, many of who do so in creative ways.
For Filippenko, who is participating for the second consecutive year, her fundraising efforts began weeks ago.
"I asked for donations from family members as my Christmas gift," she said, "and I also organized a bake sale. A friend of mine pledged to run 10 miles to every donor's house to collect his or her donation."
Participants can attest that the marathon will leave you tapped out.
"The dance starts in the morning at 10 and ends the next day," she said. "By 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., you start second guessing yourself."
She added: "I thought it was going to be easier. There were moments where I asked myself 'Why am I still going?' But the importance of the cause is enough to give you a second wind. By the end of it, people are exhausted sitting on the ground. The feeling is indescribable."
Proceeds from DM go directly to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the largest pediatric AIDS foundation; Project Kindle, a free summer camp program for HIV-affected children, and the UCLA AIDS Institute.
According the Pediatrics AIDS Coalition at UCLA, children at risk for mother-to-child transmission are extremely vulnerable in utero, during childbirth, and when breast-feeding. Without treatment, the risk of an HIV positive mother infecting her child is greater than 30 percent. Today, with antiretroviral medications and proper care during childbirth, doctors are able to reduce the chance of transmission from 30 percent to less than 1 percent. While progress has been made, more than 1,000 people continue to be infected with HIV every day because of a lack of resources.
"I really enjoy being part of the event, but it's especially important to remember the reason I'm doing it is because of the cause," Filippenko said. "Today, pediatric AIDS is close to 100 percent preventable; the beneficiaries of DM are children who are actually affected by HIV. Instead of putting the money into research and development, which wont necessarily lead to a cure, the program actually saves lives."
To learn more about UCLA's Pediatrics AIDS Coalition and Dance Marathon, go to www.dancemarathon.ucla.edu.