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AIDS GROUP RENEWED BY WALK FOR LIFE

After stepping dangerously close to shutting its doors forever, the Utah AIDS Foundation was given a breath of life after the Walk For Life fund-raiser brought in more than $140,000.

"The success of the Walk For Life was beyond our wildest dreams," said Rick Pace, foundation director. "We could be here indefinitely. There is no anticipation of anything happening again like what happened in April."Earlier this year, the Utah AIDS Foundation faced a crippling budgetary crisis. Dwindling donations and a shortfall of federal funds forced the foundation to close on Fridays, lay off one staff member, cut the hours of another almost in half. The remaining 17 employees accepted a 20 percent pay reduction. Many feared the foundation was headed for closure.

Now, partly because of the success of the march, the foundation has reopened on Fridays and increased employees' wages.

Originally, the foundation's goal for the Walk For Life was $90,000, Pace said.

"We couldn't believe that we about doubled our goal," he said. "Now that families are losing family members and more people are becoming affected by AIDS, they are coming out to help."

The nonprofit organization relies heavily on about three fund-raisers throughout the year to support its $450,000 annual budget. Pace said the reason for the money crunch in April was the disappointing amount of donations after a benefit in March.

Foundation staffers are constantly petitioning for federal grants, he said. In Utah, where the political climate is conservative, it is difficult to get financial backing from the government, Pace said.

"When we march to the state legislature, we aren't exactly met with open arms," he said.

The AIDS foundation offers grief therapy, group counseling and a statewide hotline. It provides companions for those who would otherwise be alone in their final hours, Pace said.

"Some of these people are shunned by family and friends and their church when they die. I have seen families refuse to come pick up bodies," he said.

A strong - but small - corps of volunteers visits, shops and cares for those immobilized by AIDS, Pace said. Volunteers also man the hotline 24 hours a day. The foundation provides free condoms for people at risk for contracting the disease.

A 1994 state study found the AIDS virus may infect as many as 6,400 Utahns. Since 1983, 506 Utahns with AIDS have died. That does not include another 194 diagnosed in another state who died in Utah.

"We are not meeting all the needs of all the people. It is difficult to do fund-raisers in Utah, especially when the product you are trying to sell is AIDS prevention," Pace said. "We need to convince people that our organization literally saves lives."