“HIV is still an issue.” Meet Jennifer, a top supporter and fundraiser for the AIDS Walk

Alisha Ostbergantiretroviral therapy, Blog, social determinants, stigma, support

Jennifer has a very personal connection to the AIDS Walk. Her first one was almost 15 years ago, and she walks every year. A few years ago she started a fundraising event at her house. Getting everybody she knows involved, she has grown her event to be one of the most successful fundraisers for the AIDS Walk in Calgary.

Jennifer and her husband Scott, Team Klinck as they call themselves on their AIDS Walk fundraising page (picture below), work in the wine industry here in Calgary. But when she was very young, she wanted to be a doctor. She used to talk with her brother Karl a lot about what she wanted to do in life. Jennifer always felt connected to him because he appreciated her nerdiness and her good grades. He’d always call her after tests and exams and when report cards were given out, just to make sure she was doing her best.

“When I was a teenager, my brother contracted HIV. From that point on, I’ve kind of had an interest on every level. I went to university for Microbiology so I also have this inside kind of interest in viruses and diseases. I’ve been doing literally something related to HIV and AIDS ever since” shares Jennifer. Back then, there wasn’t a lot of information around the illness. “My brother was awesome. He was ahead of the times. I believe that if there was more information available at that time in history, he would have used it to protect himself. Throughout high school, he was an actor and always did well in class. At the end of high school he told his girlfriend and my parents that he was gay. He wrote my parents a letter, put it under the bedroom door and moved to Toronto. Initially, my parents were very uncomfortable with this news,” says Jennifer. “Back then, it was a big deal, it was the 70’s and he wasn’t sure how they would respond. It took some time for my parents to come to terms with it but in the end, family was what mattered most.”

Several years after he contracted HIV, her brother died from AIDS-related illness.  “It was the late 80’s. He went on the antiretrovirals available at the time, he got really sick, and he said ‘I’d rather feel good and maybe not last as long.’ That was his decision. He got sick several times, mostly with pneumonia but recovered. A little weaker each time. The last time he got pneumonia his body said this is it,” says Jennifer as she holds back tears. “Sorry, it’s been a long time, but it’s still a lot. I was barely 20 at the time.”

Since then, Jennifer has always had an interest in spreading knowledge and information. She spent two years in Kenya doing HIV and AIDS awareness and setting up mobile clinics. She was 31 when she went to Kenya. ‘’I developed a ‘teaching teachers’ program called EMPOWER, where we would teach locals how to relay information and teach other people about HIV and AIDS. It was amazing and hard and the best thing that I’ve ever done. I feel like my role here in Canada is more about supporting people infected or affected. It’s close to my heart,” says Jennifer.

She started to volunteer for HIV Community Link when she moved to Calgary in 2001, and participated in her first AIDS Walk shortly after. “We have a lot of friends involved with the fundraiser and then whoever is in town on walk day comes and walks with us,” she explains. Jennifer thinks that more people should get involved and fundraise to support people affected by HIV. “There’s been so much progress with respect to treatment and the potential for a cure that people don’t realize it’s still a problem. HIV is still a risk in many different kinds of societal and social groups. In addition, many people are living with HIV, have lost someone due to it, or have people in their lives that are living with HIV that they would like to offer support to. One of the biggest challenges that I face in raising money for the walk is that people think that HIV is no longer an issue. That’s a total misconception,” says Jennifer. “It’s essential that all infected and affected people are aware of HIV Community Link’s programs and are connected to the organization. It’s their best source of support. Getting the word out that HIV Community Link even exists to people who experience HIV/AIDS from any perspective is the most important thing,” explains Jennifer.

You too can make a difference. Register today at calgaryaidswalk.ca.