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Our mission is to help create a world
that supports and enhances
the lives of people
infected with and affected by
HIV and AIDS.
This year marks our 25th Anniversary. As part of our celebration we will sharing stories from throughout the years and hosting an event a month. Our first three are listed below. Please continue to check the website and our facebook page for the details.
25 stories for 25 years
I remember when my former doctor called me at home to tell me the Western Blot came back reactive-a full month after the initial blood draw for the Elisa. There was no 20 minute rapid test, and no pre- and post-test counseling. My doctor simply told me which doctor to see, because she didn't know anything about HIV.
That was a little over 20 years ago. Times were fairly scary. The meds were awful, making all of us ill, and people were dying on a regular basis. My health was stable for a time, then went downhill. I lost weight, had constant thrush, and was in and out of the hospital. But I made wonderful friendships with the most amazing people. Unfortunately, most of those people died. I never got used to attending funerals.
After testing positive, I was put in touch with AIDS Ministries. Back then it was simply a few offices in the St. Joseph Church office building. There was no care coordination, housing or testing. We basically clung together for dear life.
The organization certainly has evolved over the years. I always had good care coordinators and am now lucky enough to have worked with one my former coordinators. I am also lucky to part of this place. It’s rare to find and employer willing to work with a disabled person. Leeah was understanding and open enough to work with me hours wise and physical wise.
I am aware most people only see my leg brace and do not see some of the more serious issues. But they are there.
I love my clients, every single one. I am so fortunate to be able to work with people I share a virus with. What I try to offer is understanding, while at the same time my clients know I expect honesty. I do not judge them. I only try to help them in areas they want help with being a recovering addict helps with that.
Leeah told me this was going to be on Facebook. I do not indulge in the social network. But, I want to thank Leeah, Tony, Mike and all my wonderful co-workers for making this agency like my second family.
25 stories for 25 years
Reflection from Sister Rose Firkus, SSJ TOSF
I was at times posed with the question from those coming to be tested, “why are you doing this (testing for HIV/AIDS).” After all, I was a gray haired older woman. My answer is that I am Franciscan woman religious who, following St Francis’s call to be with and for those who were often neglected or marginalized is a call for me. The gay/lesbian community is one such group and they taught me a lot.
I was at AIDS Ministries/AIDS Assist from its early days. When the testing program I was the first full time employee hired. I had been volunteering before that time. With a state grant we started a Prevention/ Education program out in the community. We started with four sites where the site provided us with space for the education and/or testing. Those sites included the homeless shelters, drug treatment programs, clinics for those who were uninsured /underinsured, or other areas where we ewer invited. With the hiring of Spanish speaking employees we were more able to service the Hispanic population. When I left in 2004 we had 33 sites in South Bend, Mishawaka, Elkhart and Goshen.
As our staff grew we set up departments. I was the Director of Education/Prevention Department. Most of the care coordinators also helped with testing. Latorya Greene became a proficient part of the department and when I was leaving she had the skills and knowledge to take over the directorship.
Sometimes one wondered if our messages were getting through to those who were putting themselves at risk. One evening I was surprised by one of our “clients” coming to my door. He was one of our homeless persons who had come to be tested. He was looking for condoms for “it’s a matter of life and death”. He was going out for the weekend.
It was my privilege to be part of AM/AA in its growing years. I will always thank God and the people of AM/AA for the privilege.
Loren J. Van Oort, M.Div.
Pastor Emeritus, Christ the King Lutheran Church, South Bend.
Fr. Robert Bizarro said, “I think you would be a good candidate to serve on the Religion Committee of AIDS Ministries/AIDS Assist.” Bob, a highly-respected colleague, was serving as Rector of the Cathedral of St. James, downtown South Bend. Coming from this outstanding example of humble service, I received his invitation with care and consideration.
A number of significant pastoral care experiences in my life began to replay in my mind: walking through the challenges for teens (and their parents) when “coming out;” standing beside colleagues and spouses who could no longer pretend to be heterosexual; struggling with parish leaders who considered it inappropriate to open the parish hall to meetings of the local LGBT and families.
Becoming chair of the Religion Committee brought with it service on the Board of AIDS Ministry/AIDS Assist of Northern Indiana. Helping plan and presiding at World AIDS Day gatherings was a privilege filled with challenges. Being invited by the staff and family members to make pastoral visits and preside at funerals was, from a spiritual perspective, the most meaningful of the activities I shared.
Through my years of involvement, I was thankful that gradually churches and the general population moved from resistance and rejection to cool acceptance and even warmth and love of the victims of AIDS and ambitious support of all efforts to stand beside anyone impacted by this illness.
To find out more about AIDS Ministries history and vision for the
future, visit our About Us page.