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Listen Up, Parents

Sex talk with your kids beats making funeral plans.

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Julie Williams remembers the night in 1994 when her 20-year-old son, Jim, told her he had been diagnosed with HIV. They sat down and talked about his future, and they agreed that Jim would fight the virus head-on, despite his doctor's poor prognosis. "At first, it was very hard, because we were afraid to confide in anybody," Julie says. "Those first four months were tormenting."

Eventually, Julie shared the news with a friend. Then another, and another. "They listened to me talk for hours, and I never felt ostracized by the people I told," she recalls.

In March 1999, AIDS took Jim's life, and his mother soon embarked on a tour of colleges, high schools, and churches throughout the Midwest. Her message to parents and kids: Talk about HIV and AIDS -- before it's too late.

Williams's crusade is part of Mothers' Voices, a New York-based nonprofit with nearly 40,000 members. It includes a core group of 200 women, like Williams, who travel the country to promote frank sex talk between parents and their children. This Sunday, Williams stops in Westlake for Parents vs. HIV/AIDS, a workshop intended for parents of teens and preteens. "While it is uncomfortable for parents to think of their children being sexually active," Williams says, "it is much harder to watch your child die."

And the numbers speak for themselves: According to Mothers' Voices, 65 percent of high school students have had sex by the time they reach their senior year (though a recent CDC study suggests that number may be on the decline). Every hour, two Americans between the ages of 13 and 24 are infected with HIV.

Through her ordeal, Williams formed a unique bond with her son, and in his passing, she hopes to help other families form similar relationships. "I was so blessed that I had an opportunity to develop such an amazing closeness with my son," she says, "despite the pain of losing my only child."

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