By Bill Pharr
© Diversity Rules Magazine and Bill Pharr
In the spring of 2009 after the closure of CRAS (Catskill Rural AIDS Services), a person approached me to start another group to offer a place for infected individuals to have a place to meet and socialize in a safe environment. Positive Connections started to do some of that. We received space in The First United Methodist Church to meet. Initially, we met every Saturday for a month or two. That was a bit too much and it we decided to meet the last Saturday of the month. Also, we had some events that were just to relax and unwind—picnics, barbecues, holiday dinners and other events. We received a generous donation to help to provide food and money to produce and send out a monthly newsletter.
The organization started out with about four to five key individuals doing most of the organizing and planning. I did about 90% of writing the newsletter each month, copying it and mailing it and went to those infected, affected and supporters. The committee worked to write a grant proposal to a local church to receive more money to keep the operation going. It did receive it. We do not have a 501c3 status, so fund raising it a tough chore. After awhile key organizers stopped being involved for personal, health and work obligations. No other volunteers stepped up to fill some of the void. Most of the work landed on my shoulders. Towards the end of 2011, this responsibility started to feel overwhelming and quite tiring.
Also, during 2011 STAP out of Johnson City had two part-time employees that worked out of a remote office in Oneonta. Eventually, STAP eliminated these two positions and occasionally a staff member would travel from the Southern Tier to meet with a consumer. STAP offers social/supportive events mainly in their region. Most clients do not have the means to drive to these occasional events due to lack of transportation and the rising price of gas. The need to have events in this area is still important. Also, AIDS Services has an office in Catholic Charities building and offer mainly case management. Though people living with AIDS are living healthier and more productive lives, the stigma still exists.
If someone receives the diagnosis of cancer there is usually immediate symphony and support. In the case of AIDS, probably the first question that arises, how did they contract it—unprotected sex or drug use. Some are just victims of another person’s carelessness. Recently, there is the case in Pennsylvania of a student denied attending a private school in Hershey, PA because he was infected with AIDS. I thought in two decades, we had gotten further than that.
Ignorance is still out there.
So back to Positive Connections, there is a need for an organization in this area. The immediate demands to keep it going are the following:
• Persons to help plan events
• Persons to find sources to procure donations
• Newsletter helpers and writers
• Support staff
• Persons to host events
• Persons to help with other various talents
• Persons who can do PR and write articles for local papers
• Please get the word out for any that would be interested.