Nearly 15 years ago, Kevin Todd, a 1975 graduate of Lenape High School, died from HIV/AIDS.
He was 40.
His sister, Lisa O’Neill, insistent on keeping his memory alive, formed the Spirit of the Holidays nonprofit organization shortly thereafter to help the families of those diagnosed with the relentless virus.
On Saturday, May 5, Kevin’s alma mater will be hosting the second annual Kevin Todd Memorial AIDS Walk from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. with all proceeds benefiting Spirit of the Holidays.
The 2.5-mile walk is open to the public and registration is priced at $20.
“I think there’s just this view out there that (AIDS) was something to worry about in the 1980s,” said AIDS committee member and Lenape media specialist Jaime Fauver.
Often times, students hear about the dangers of AIDS, she said, but do not see it as a big issue.
“You need to practice safe sex,” she said. “While there’s some treatment options out there, the treatment’s not fun.”
Sometimes medicine doesn’t work, she said, and many people still die at a younger age or of complications.
For O’Neill, her older brother’s death was much too soon.
“Kevin and I were really close,” she said. “Kevin was a very upbeat guy. He was very popular.”
“The most non-judgmental human being.”
One day, while taking Kevin to one of his doctor appointments, she noticed he was abnormally melancholic. She asked what was wrong, and he responded, “I’m afraid you’ll forget me,” with a tear in his eye.
“It’s a day I’ll never forget,” she said. “How ironic that last year, Lenape comes to us and says, ‘We’d like to have a walk in South Jersey.’”
“He’s being remembered every year,” she said.
The AIDS awareness committee at the school is “unbelievable,” she said. “They work tirelessly. These women … have such a heart for this situation.”
Last year’s walk generally garnered participants from Lenape High School, Shawnee High School in Medford, and Cherokee High School in Marlton, Fauver said.
“We can reach the students,” she said. “We really want to make this a big community event, as well.”
The eventual goal, she said, is to make this walk the major walk for AIDS in South Jersey.
This year, more than 60 students signed up to help with the walk — making posters and spreading the word.
As a special treat, there will be a dunk tank this year as one of the activities participants will be able to enjoy.
“All of the students are looking forward to dunking an assistant principal and principal,” she laughed.
Mindy Schnepf, also on the AIDS committee at the school, said many groups within the school have contributed to the walk: art students, National Honor Society students, seniors taking a leadership course, support from the student council, SADD and JROTC.
A future goal, she said, is to have the walks, held in the spring and fall, become a school-wide community service project.
Spirit of the Holidays has received significant contributions from the school.
“Last year, we were able to help 17 families (between both walks) and one family was a very last minute thing,” she said. “The family was in desperate need. The money we raise this spring will allow Spirit of the Holidays to begin purchasing gifts.”
Community involvement is key, she said.
“(For) the spring walk, we need a great deal of community support. You can purchase a shirt for $10 or come and join the walk for $20,” she said. “All money raised goes right to the families in need. We would never turn down anyone who wants to help us or offers help.”
Monetary donations to Spirit of the Holidays, which operates eight months out of the year readying to help during the holiday season, are also accepted.
Attendees will receive a commemorative T-shirt and a raffle ticket.
Many fun raffle items will be awarded, including two sets of Philadelphia Phillies tickets, a kindle fire a flat-screen TV, a Keurig coffee machine, tickets to the Mt. Laurel Funplex, a gift card to Pleasant Valley Miniature Golf Club in Voorhees, and gift cards to local restaurants, said Fauver.
A DJ will be present, as will Rita’s Water Ice, on hand to give out free water ice, she said.
Last year’s walk raised $3,000 for the cause and 180 people came out, she said, and the committee is hoping for even more of a response this year.
Schnepf is hoping that between the spring and fall walks this year, the school will be able to provide help for 25 to 30 families during the holiday season.
For O’Neill, it’s not that the loss of her brother ever gets easier, she said, she just has learned how to live and work with the pain.
“I know one day we’ll see him again,” she said, and there will be a party up in heaven with Kevin at center stage.
Hopeful participants can register the day of the walk.
For more information about the walk, contact Lenape’s AIDS committee members Jaime Fauver at (609) 654–5111 ext. 3555 or email@example.com, Jen Gaffney at firstname.lastname@example.org, Nicole Mustaccio at email@example.com or Mindy Schnepf firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the Spirit of the Holidays organization, log on to www.spiritoftheholidays.org.