Students at the Westbrook Regional Vocational Center and Westbrook High School marked World AIDS Day by hearing from people who are living with the disease.

The students attended assemblies last Friday to hear speakers discussing the theme: “Stop AIDS. Keep the promise.”

The program, which was coordinated by Norman Sprague, a culinary arts instructor at the vocational center, included speakers from the Frannie Peabody Center and Dr. Owen Pickus, a Portland- area internist who treats individuals living with HIV/AIDS.

The Frannie Peabody Center in Portland provides HIV/AIDS prevention education and direct services, including housing, information, education, advocacy and counseling. Elmer Shelton talked about his work at the center and his experience living with HIV. Julie Carroll, a case manager, described the services provided at the center as well as the still-critical nature of HIV/AIDS in the community.

Cynthia Cushing, who contracted AIDS more than 10 years ago, told the students about her battle with both AIDS and drug use, and the life-saving support she has received from the Frannie Peabody Center.

Pickus gave a history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States, which appeared before many of the students and staff in the audience were born.

Juniors Jessica Arsenault, Nicole Fernald and Hillary Knight, and seniors Brittni Keites, Shawna Kay Gayner and Kasey Flood presented important facts about HIV/AIDS that all teens need to understand. Students were also asked to wear red that day, and many received red ribbons at lunchtime to commemorate the day.

It is estimated that 1 million HIV-positive individuals are living in the United States – the largest number ever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of those people infected with the HIV virus, over one-fourth do not know they are infected. That means they are not receiving treatment or they are unknowingly spreading the virus to other people. In Maine, an estimated 1,100 people are living with HIV or AIDS.

WHS AIDS Day 1 On Dec. 1, the Westbrook schools hosted an assembly marking World AIDS Day. Pictured (from left) Julie Carroll, Cynthia Cushing and Elmer Shelton talked to the students about HIV/AIDS.

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