It’s not all fun and games, fabulous art, and sexy models. The Telluride AIDS Benefit is dead serious when it comes to awareness and education, so serious the launch of TAB’s big week starts at Telluride Middle School/High School.

The Student Fashion Show takes place at The Palm, Thursday, February 23, 6 p.m. Later in the week, Friday, March 2, all grades attend a student (peer educator-run) assembly, which includes a mini fashion show, student films, and testimonials by young people teaching other young people why safe intimate behavior is so important.

Under the guidance of the Western Colorado AIDS Project (WestCAP), TAB’s primary beneficiary, Middle School kiddos get to participate in “test tube” activity, a demonstration of how HIV is transmitted. A guest speaker also talks about safe, healthy decision making around intimate behavior, sexting, and more.

High School students (grades 9 – 12) go deeper, attending four different sessions led by TAB beneficiaries, including WestCAP, Brother Jeff’s Initiative, the Children’s Hospital HIV Program (CHIP), and the Manzini Youth Care Project.

“Why is youth education important?  Simple,” says Jodie Shike Wright, board chair, TAB, “HIV transmission CAN be prevented. The HIV infection rate among 15-24 year olds is growing (representing 45% of new infections). We at TAB battle a stigma in youth education, an unrealistic belief that educating youth about sexual behavior will increase interest and activity. The real truth is this: with denial comes fear-based false beliefs and misinformation. Education is VITAL to prevention.”

The prevention education program in the school is Sandy McLaughlin’s baby. Sandy, who is a TAB board member and special education teacher at the school, started the program in 1994 when TAB’s very first director, Amy Kimberly, approached her to help. Since then, Sandy’s focus has been HIV/AIDS awareness and risk reduction.

“Prevention education is of paramount importance to me. Why today? Because our kids are more worldly, more educated, more well-traveled and may be experimenting in romantic relationships at younger ages, but they don’t know all that they could know about making healthy, safer choices. We hope to provide that information when our TAB beneficiaries present the latest research and share their experiences in the field with HIV positive patients and their families from Colorado to Africa. And yes, every year our kids tell us they have listened to the information before. However, I do not just want them to listen, I want them to hear. I want them to get it. I want them to put into practice what we preach.”

The most popular segment of the half-day program occurs when the girls and boys hole up in separate rooms to talk with an educator/advocate about whatever concerns them, warts and all.

“They know what they say will be held in the strictest confidence and never ever be repeated,” adds Sandy.

Which is why many of the models in the Student Fashion Show are peer educators, a crusading army of teens who have been through AIDS advocacy training and teach prevention activities.

The director of this year’s show is senior Shelby Blueher, a peer educator.

” I am super dedicated to academics and helping others through causes such as TAB,” explains Shelby. “I am trying to make a difference by spreading awareness and happiness. I think TAB is so important because AIDS affects so many people and families all around the world, from third world countries to first-world countries.We have to educate to prevent HIV/AIDS from spreading even more.”

TAB’s student choreographer is junior Marialexa Kavanaugh, also a ballet dancer. Junior Keith Hill is in charge of the music, video and the educational components of the evening.

Tickets are $10 and can only be purchased at the door.

To learn more, watch Clint Viebrock’s video interview with Shelby, Marialexa and Keith:

The list of student models is as follows:

Antista, Alyssa
Dahl, Taylor
Greene, Hannah
Greene, Mary Grace
Metz, Amber
Swartz, Chambri
Vargas Carrillo, Maria (Lupita)

Fulton, Sarah
Gumble, Katy
Hazen, Terra
Johnson, Maddie

Aplin, Slator
Dickinson, Tessa
Franklin, Scout
Gerald, Jon
Hamblin, Kira
Hanley, Ryan
Hill, Keith
Hill, Toni
Hirsch, Griffin
Kavanaugh, Marialexa
Keenan, Conor
Kelley, Brendan
Mackie, Morgan
Niebruegge, Ryan
Valle, Dorosi
Zeller, Keenan

Blueher, Shelby
Bush, Jo
Child, Jacquie
Coflin, Olivia
Erickson, Sonja
Green, Ciara
Israel, Sarah
Krieg, Hannah
Ludwig, Emy
MacMillan, Evan
Matamoros, Gen
Michell, Molly
Stauder, Carla

Editor’s note: The image is from last year’s show features last year’s director, Charlotte Delpit. Shelby, Marialexa, and Keith (stars of the video) are this year’s faces.

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