Mother of all fundraisers’ passes $250,000 milestone
By Kevin O’Connor
Staff Writer | May 19,2014
Kevin O’Connor / Staff Photo
Shirley Squires is interviewed by WTSA radio reporter Tim Johnson at the AIDS Project of Southern Vermont’s 27th annual Walk for Life.
BRATTLEBORO — Guilford resident Shirley Squires may stand only 5 feet, but she can report plenty of tall numbers.
Take her age: 83. And current count of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren she’s matriarch for: 55. And amount of money she has raised the past two decades for the AIDS Project of Southern Vermont: $250,000.
“I like the sound of ‘quarter of a million’ better,” Squires said this weekend.
So, apparently, did the hundreds of Vermonters who helped her reach that milestone at this town’s 27th annual Walk for Life.
“On many of my checks I got notes saying, ‘I hope you reach your quarter-million,’” Squires said. “I had no vision of something like this when I started.”
Squires joined the annual spring march shortly after the 1993 death of her 41-year-old son, Rep. Ronald Squires, D-Guilford, the first Vermont legislator to announce his homosexuality — he did so to help pass an anti-discrimination law — and the first state public figure to lose his life to AIDS.
Soliciting 800 family members, friends and organizations statewide, Squires has gone from collecting $1,000 in her first walk to culling $12,000 on her 10th anniversary and $19,500 on her 20th.
Squires annually aims to raise a dollar more than she did the year before. During her 22nd walk Saturday, she not only raised a record $22,000 — two-thirds of the entire event’s $30,000 take — but also reached her $250,000 lifetime total.
“I get so excited when the money comes in, you’d think it was mine.”
Instead, it benefits the AIDS Project, a Brattleboro-based nonprofit whose annual budget of a little more than $400,000 pays for community prevention efforts and individual support for 70 clients in Bennington and Windham counties.
Vermont’s three AIDS service organizations are trying to balance steady caseloads — about 600 people statewide are living with the human immunodeficiency virus that causes the disease — as the federal government shifts its financial assistance from smaller towns to bigger cities.
The AIDS Project has a quarter of a million reasons to appreciate its top fundraiser. But when supporters call for more volunteers like her, executive director Karen Peterson has a singular response: “There’s only one Shirley Squires.”