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The Death of an HIV/AIDS Organization

By Terri Wilder, M.S.W.

September 25, 2008

Time: 11:15 a.m.
Place: Georgia

My heart is breaking. It is not breaking over a guy rejecting me or not paying attention to me, but from the end of something amazing.

I just found out that the HIV/AIDS organization I used to work for is closing. Although I have not worked at this organization in over seven years, some of the happiest days of my life were spent at that place and I'm feeling a little sad about its demise. I had such joy working for that agency. Working with and for people with HIV was a privilege and I felt grateful to have had that opportunity.

I started out working in the agency's outreach program, was later transferred to special events, and then ended up managing a two-day education and empowerment program for people newly diagnosed with HIV. I was proud to be part of this incredible program -- it saved people's lives and it was inspiring to watch it happen right before my eyes. The program was founded by a person living with HIV, and it maintained its reputation as a quality peer-based program through the hard work and dedication of hundreds of volunteers living with and affected by HIV.

I am grieving over this news for lots of reasons. I am grieving over the end of something incredible, the impact that it will have on people living with HIV and the loss it represents in the form of unrealized dreams. I am pissed off because I think this downward spiral could have been prevented. I am convinced that the agency is closing because of neglect and not for reasons reported in the local press.

One of my good friend, who worked for the agency, provided an interesting analogy to the agency closing. He told me that it felt like the agency had been infected with a virus a couple of years ago and that much like HIV, this virus had beaten up the agency's immune system. The virus had been invited into the agency. Once it entered the agency it began to slowly destroy it. In a two-year period, this virus ostracized other helper cells, neglected the functioning of healthy cells and did not pursue healthy remedies to keep the host functioning.

My friend explained that a virus had come to the agency in the form of a new employee. This new employee was supposed to provide new direction and leadership. I don't know the particulars of what took place once the employee arrived, but my understanding is that the agency's board was padded with friends and that voices of reason were ignored. The employee did not take seriously their responsibility to the agency, and to the HIV-positive people the agency was meant to serve. As the agency deteriorated and failed, that failure was blamed on a host of unrelated factors, such as a lack of funding.

This agency helped people for over 20 years. It's a disgrace to see it disappear when it is still so needed by people living with HIV/AIDS. This agency had a structure that insured a passionate and committed response to the diverse and changing needs of people living with HIV/AIDS; but that structure was manipulated, lost and destroyed. The agency's closure is in direct opposition to its mission statement of empowerment and meeting the diverse and changing needs of people living with HIV/AIDS ... and it is a shame that it must end in decline and failure.

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