High school student devoted to AIDS awareness

The AIDS epidemic for many is something that exists far away, not something as close to home as San Diego. And yet, some might be surprised to find out that 16,000 people in this city are battling HIV and AIDS.

Seti O'Brien, a 15-year-old junior at Canyon Crest Academy, has been focused on the HIV and AIDS community for three years now, organizing and raising money for her AIDS Walk San Diego group. The walk this year will be held on Sept. 28 and O'Brien is looking to get local people involved and improve on last year’s total raised of $7,000. Her lofty goal is set at $10,000.

“I had it in my head that I want to raise more than I did last year,” O'Brien said.

The Aids Walk will be held in downtown San Diego and is a 5K (about three miles) walking course through Balboa Park. The race also features a running option at a 10K distance (6.2 miles).

The walk started in San Diego in 1989, it took place two years prior as the Walk for Life. Through a funding partnership with the San Diego HIV Funding Collaborative, the event increases the impact of the funds raised by combining them with matching donations from other philanthropists and foundations.

Since the beginning, they have raised more than $7 million. In partnership with the San Diego HIV Funding Collaborative, nearly $500,000 was distributed last year to 28 community-based HIV/AIDS service organizations in San Diego County.

O'Brien is one of the youngest to have her own walking and fundraising group, only a freshman when she started. The group goes by the name “Ithemba,” which means hope in Zulu.

“Seti is an amazing testament to the change that is possible in the world,” said Donnie Luehring, walk manager. “I believe strongly that with young leaders like Seti O'Brien, a day without AIDS will become a reality.”

O'Brien first got interested in the cause after seeing the play “Rent,” which tells the story of a group of Bohemian New Yorkers dealing with the drama of the disease.

“It made me want to learn more about it,” said O'Brien. “Most of what I knew was just from health class.”

She started doing her own research, reading books and the more she found out, the more she wanted to help. The last two years she has had about 30 walkers with her, fellow students and their parents. She has also built on the amount of money raised each year, starting at $1,400 in 2006 and last year ending up with $7,000.

“It’s hard to get kids motivated sometimes,” O'Brien admitted but she has a great group of participating friends from American Family Martial Arts Studio in Solana Beach, where she takes class.

Last year, O'Brien’s efforts caught the attention of walk organizers and she was given the AIDS Walk Hero Award for not only raising funds bur helping to raise awareness. O'Brien said she was surprised but organizers said they had been impressed from the beginning by her heart and her dedication.

“Seti’s commitment to making a difference has energized dozens of walkers over the years,” Luehring said.

To donate or sign up to be a part of the Ithemba San Diego AIDS Walk group, e-mail Seti at or visit her walk page at The walk and run start at 8 a.m. Registration is $35 adults and $25 for seniors and youth ages 17 and under.

AIDS Walk San Diego

  • Sept. 28 at Balboa Park
  • 5K walk and 10K run start at 8 a.m.
  • Registration $35 adults, $25 youth and seniors
  • Join Carmel Valley’s local Ithemba group by visiting