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Peekskill Unveils Tree of Life to Mark World AIDS Day

PEEKSKILL, NY -- City residents gathered in Pugsley Park Thursday night for a different kind of tree lighting in observance of World AIDS Day.

Children from the Peekskill Youth Bureau put together a Tree of Life to mark World AIDS Day with the help of some area artists. The tree was made from driftwood gathered from the Hudson River.

Area artists Wilfredo Morel, Lana Yu and Jim Taylor helped design and assemble the tree.

Yu said that after doing some research the artists came up with idea of using wood veneers as leaves.

"I was involved with deciding how the paint was going to be combined and the materials that were going to be used and the template for the shape of the leaves and then I worked with the youth bureau in actually creating those leaves," Yu said. "It was the kids that cut out the leaves and punched the holes and strung the ribbons."

Area residents are encouraged to collect a leaf at the youth bureau, which is accepting dollar donations. Donations go to support the AIDS cause.

Several dozen participants marched from the youth bureau down Main Street to Pugsly Park and were led in spritual hyms by local musician Doug Smith to where the tree will remain for the rest of the holiday season.

Bishop Michael Champion of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was the first of several speakers, and led a prayer of remembrance for those who have died of the disease.

Chaka Watch of the Peekskill Salvation Army, an African immigrant, spoke of the terrible toll that HIV has had on his homeland, especially the orphaned children whose parents have died from the virus.

"Children are walking on the streets when it is cold like this with no shoes, they have no jackets, some of them can't even even go to school because their parents died of AIDS," Watch said.

Watch urged everyone to get tested for HIV, and urged young people in attendance to be mindful of the disease.

"Consider every boyfriend or girlfriend that you meet someone who is carrying AIDS, until you know for real that they are not," Watch said.

Mayor Mary Foster thanked the community for their involvement in the event, particularly the youth.

"We are an awesome community, and it is so heartwarming to see so many young people out here leading the procession in song," Foster said.

The tree was dedicated by Peekskill Rev. Jeanette Phillips of the Park Street AME Zion Church.

"May this tree that was spawned on land and then in our Hudson River and then back to land again be symbolic of life that flows out but yet flows back in," Phillips said.

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