September 7, 2011
Quick Facts About
In TheBody.com's HIV/AIDS Organization Spotlight series, we focus on some of the true unsung heroes of the HIV community: the organizations that support and provide services for individuals living with, or at risk for, HIV. We profile some of the best in the U.S. and learn how they got started, what challenges they face and what's in store for them in the future.
This week, we turn our sights on Hawaii and Life Foundation. According to the Hawaii State Department of Health, 2,318 Hawaiians were living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2010. The cultural stigma attached to HIV/AIDS remains strong in Hawaii, which is part of why Life Foundation's efforts are as important than ever. After 28 years of serving the community, Life Foundation continues to do what it does best: help those who are positive while running constant prevention campaigns.
TheBody.com recently interviewed Melanie Moore, the director of communications at Life Foundation.
Can you tell me a little bit about how Life Foundation got started and what your mission is today?
We're a nonprofit organization dedicated to stopping the spread of HIV and to assisting people who are living with HIV/AIDS. Life Foundation was founded by Dr. David McEwan, who saw firsthand the impact HIV/AIDS was having in California in the early 1980s, and started the Life Foundation so Hawaii would be prepared to face the epidemic.
Since opening its doors as Hawaii's first HIV organization in 1983, Life Foundation has been implementing innovative programs such as AIDS case management, school-based HIV/AIDS education, sterile needle exchange, peer support for positives, treatment education and peer-to-peer HIV prevention outreach.
Today, our mission is to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS. To empower those affected by HIV/AIDS and maximize their quality of life. To provide leadership and advocacy in responding to the AIDS epidemic. To apply the skills and lessons learned from the AIDS epidemic to other related areas of public health or concern.
How many people do you serve, and what services do you currently offer?
Today, Life Foundation works with approximately 700 HIV-positive men, women, children and transgender to insure they are receiving proper medical, financial and emotional support. Life Foundation also offers HIV testing, prevention outreach and counseling. All services are free and confidential.
Is it difficult for people to find HIV care in Hawaii?
Life Foundation is considered the front door to HIV care in Hawaii, and people diagnosed with HIV are referred to Life Foundation to get on a plan of continued care. We strive to make it not difficult for people to access HIV care.
What advice would you give to somebody living with HIV who has never been to your organization before?
Life Foundation is a place you can trust. Too often we see people wait to get life-saving services until they are very sick, simply because they were afraid of the shame and stigma perceived to surround HIV/AIDS. Life Foundation is a safe, confidential place to seek services if you are HIV positive. Seek help as soon as you are diagnosed so we can assist you in getting on with your life and benefit from the many services provided to HIV-positive individuals.
What is the biggest challenge that Life Foundation faces?
Funding is always an issue, as it is for any nonprofit. In Hawaii, we also face a great cultural stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS that Life Foundation works every day to overcome. Our goal is to have HIV/AIDS seen as any disease, such as diabetes or cancer, so our clients receive the community and family support they need -- and deserve -- to live long, healthy lives.
What is the most rewarding aspect of working at Life Foundation?
Life Foundation works on a peer-based approach, so our staff reflects the great diversity of the clients we work with. It is rewarding to see such a unique group of outspoken, diverse, passionate people working together towards the same goal.
What direction is the organization moving towards?
Life Foundation is always working towards increasing HIV prevention efforts in Hawaii, which is the only "cure" we have as of now. With the launch of our "Get Real, Get Tested" campaign, Life Foundation hopes to break through some of the stigma surrounding getting tested for HIV and knowing your HIV status.
How can people help or get involved?
Donations are accepted throughout the year. You can also participate in the Honolulu AIDS Walk, held each April at Kapiolani Park. And we're always looking for volunteers.
Warren Tong is the research editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
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