ALAMEDA -- It will not be easy to stay upright on his feet for 26 straight hours, but Ollie Cunningham is determined to do it.
No matter how arduous, the UCLA freshman knows that the challenge will eventually end and he will be able to relax with his friends. Unlike the more than three million children in the world living with HIV and AIDS, his endurance does not have to last forever.
On Saturday and Sunday, Cunningham and fellow Alamedan Michael Molina will take part in the UCLA Dance Marathon, a pediatric AIDS fundraiser in its 12th year. Since its inaugural event in 2001, Dance Marathon has drawn thousands of participants, onlookers, celebrities and activists. The marathon has raised more than $3 million, benefiting HIV-positive children across the globe. Most HIV-affected young people live in Sub-Saharan Africa, the region in which the disease is most prevalent. But there are children with the diagnosis in every country in the world.
Cunningham, a graduate of St. Joseph Notre Dame High School, is a business economics major at UCLA.
"Dance Marathon is the biggest social event and service opportunity UCLA has to offer throughout the year, and honestly it was this idea that first intrigued me," Cunningham explained. "But as I learned more about the event, pediatric HIV and AIDS, and the disease's effects on children around the world, I became more concerned with the cause than anything else."
Dance Marathon's proceeds benefit the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the world's largest pediatric AIDS foundation; Project Kindle, a cost-free summer camp program for HIV-affected children, and the UCLA AIDS Institute. Last year, the dancers and their supporters donated $450,000 to the three organizations.
"Dance Marathon is a way to literally take a stand against HIV/AIDS. Everyone I have talked to who has done (it) says it is a life-changing experience, and I'm sure it will be 26 hours that I will never forget," Cunningham said, adding, "I can't wait!"
Molina, a graduate of Encinal High School, is a senior political science major with a concentration in international relations. Like Cunningham, this is his first time participating in Dance Marathon.
"I chose to participate in Dance Marathon because it allows me to help those that are less fortunate than I am ... I have never had the opportunity to directly affect someone's life like this before," he said.
Molina has not trained for the event, but plans to "sleep for the next week" after finishing it.
Both Molina and Cunningham hope that supporters who cannot attend the event will consider donating funds to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
For more information, visit the UCLA Dance Marathon website at http://www.bruindancemarathon.org/