Irini Vallera-Rickerson

Irini Vallera-Rickerson

As Aaron Jones was coming to the end of his life, he asked for one thing to be done for him — bring AIDS awareness to Orange Coast College.

Jones, a former OCC student, was 25 when AIDS took his life 29 years ago. The passing of her student compelled Irini Rickerson, professor of art and architecture, to become educated about the disease and start an annual benefit for AIDS awareness in honor of Jones’ wish.

“I’ve kept my promise for 29 years,” Rickerson said.

The 29th annual benefit takes place Friday at 5:45 p.m. in the Robert B. Moore Theatre and tickets can be purchased at the door for $15. Proceeds will go to several organizations such as the AIDS Service Foundation, Christmas Wish List for Children and OCC student scholarships.

The benefit will have music and dance performances from former students and current students. This year the benefit is also asking attendees to bring toiletries as donations for the Pirates’ Cove.

Rickerson remembers Jones as a wonderful student but said she had lost contact with him after Jones was no longer her student. Four years passed by and Rickerson got a call from a Hoag Hospital nurse who informed her an old student was requesting to see her.

Not being allowed to discuss details on the phone, Rickerson immediately went to see Jones and was shocked when she arrived.

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw him. He was so thin,” Rickerson said.

Rickerson visited Jones in the hospital for 30 days straight until Jones died.

Following his death, Rickerson held AIDS awareness panels in her classes. She wanted people to become educated on the many misconceptions about AIDS, such as being seen as a gay disease, but it affects everyone.

People say it’s a promiscuous disease, she said, but AIDS doesn’t discriminate against your age, race, gender or sexual orientation.

It’s ridiculous to say tell people to abstain, but Rickerson says there is good news. AIDS is a disease which can be avoided with proper education and protection.

Others have also been inspired to get involved with AIDS awareness.

A former OCC student in 2007, Sarah DuVal, said she volunteered to help with tickets at the event when she was Rickerson’s student. DuVal said she felt moved to help because of Rickerson’s passion and energy.

“The energy of the event is beautiful,” DuVal said.

The annual benefit has raised over $200,000 since it began 29 years ago. At the first benefit, there were 30 to 40 people in attendance. Now the benefit fills the theatre.

Rickerson plans to retire next fall after the 30th annual benefit. Next year will also mark her 40th year of teaching.

Despite being gone, Jones’ presence remains alive on campus. There’s a tree planted on the side of the Student Health Center in his memory.

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