New Englanders lament the unpredictability of the weather, but people in southern Vermont have Shirley Squires to provide balance. She has been fundraising for the AIDS Project of Southern Vermont for the past 27 years and, at 88 years young, she shows no sign of abandoning her yearly ritual.

Shortly after the death of her son Ron, Vermont’s first openly gay legislator, Squires took part in her first AIDS Project walk in 1993. Walkers solicit pledges as a way to raise money for the AIDS Project, and Squires’ efforts have been the most successful in the history of the walk.

Why does an 88-year-old lady from Guilford continue to put so much effort into helping the AIDS Project? Squires commented that, “I keep doing it in memory of my son Ron. I was on the board (AIDS Project) for six years and I know what a great organization the AIDS Project is and how much help they give to people. I don’t do anything unless I can see good value in the work.”

At the end of the 2018 walk Squires had raised a total of $350,025. Her goal this year is to raise at least $20,000 to bring her total to $370,000. It is an amazing effort by any standards. Over the years Squires has put together a team of volunteers to help mail her solicitation letters. She makes sure that all letters are hand addressed and feels that the personal touch assures the maximum fundraising outcome.

Another noteworthy accomplishment of the master fundraiser is her solicitation success rate. Most fundraisers are happy with a 10 percent response rate when they send out appeal letters. Squires’ letters are returned with donations 77 percent of the time. Her donors are loyal and they feel that their money is being put to good use to help local people who struggle with issues related to HIV/AIDS.

Over the years AIDS has become a chronic, manageable (not acute fatal) disease for most people, and that is the result of a strong foundation of advocacy and support as well as political action.

The current administration in Washington has been unsuccessful in its efforts to cut funding for AIDS-related activity, thanks to successful lobbying efforts. But AIDS funding has not increased over a number of years, and level-funded budgets do not provide the kind of support that AIDS advocacy organizations need.

The work done by the AIDS Project of Southern Vermont goes unnoticed by most people but it is work that enriches the entire community by assuring that some of the area’s most vulnerable people can live with dignity and remain productive community members.

The project’s services include: Case managers who provides assistance for HIV positive individuals in receiving and maintaining needed medical, social and vocational services; providing referrals to and coordination with a broad range of services in the community; assistance with applications for state and federal insurance programs that provide medical services, medications, dental care, Social Security and disability issues; as well as limited state and agency funding to assist eligible clients with housing, mental health care, substance use treatment, transportation, nutrition, emergencies and other needs related to HIV/AIDS care.

Project funding also supports a program that provides frozen food, non-perishable food, fresh fruits and vegetables, nutritional supplements and personal care items to HIV positive clients.

This program is supported by the Vermont Foodbank, members of area faith communities and shoppers at the Brattleboro Food Co-op.

It takes a continuous supply of money to support these valuable services.

That is why fundraising efforts such as those of Squires and others is so important. The 2019 Walk for Life will be on Saturday May 18 beginning at 10 a.m. at the River Garden on Main Street in Brattleboro.

After the walk there will be events at the River Garden including music, speakers and food.

If you want to support Squires’ efforts you can send a donation to her at 1890 Guilford Center Road, Guilford, Vermont 05301 and make the check out to the AIDS Project of Southern Vermont.

Richard Davis is a registered nurse. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.