Pennsylvania: Non-Profit Group Marks 25 Years in Fight Against HIV, AIDS
September 22, 2010
Co-County Wellness Services (CCWS) will celebrate its 25th anniversary this fall. The non-profit was founded by a group of medical and social workers, clergy, and gay activists, responding to a growing epidemic in Berks County. Today, it is the only organization offering HIV and STD services in Berks and Schuykill counties.
An atmosphere of enormous fear surrounded HIV/AIDS in 1985, said Carolyn Bazik, the group's executive director. "Parents were having a hard time accessing services for their children who were dying, because this was an unknown entity," she said. Berks AIDS Health Crisis, as it was then known, was started to help fill the gap. Trained volunteers provided information on how HIV spread and where patients could seek treatment. Volunteers also offered emotional support to AIDS patients and their families.
At the time, people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS had a grim prognosis, said CCWS Deputy Director Barbara Waller. A major part of CCWS' work involved "preparing you, helping you through the stages, and preparing yourself and your family for your death," she said.
In 1988, CCWS became affiliated with Reading Urban Ministry. The group then became the first in the state to receive HIV/AIDS funding for case management.
CCWS has since expanded its mission to include STD testing. Last year, it tested more than 2,500 people at free clinics in Berks and Schuykill counties. A majority of clients initially come to CCWS for STD services.
However, HIV and STD prevention will always be the CCWS' main focus, said Bazik. "They've got vaccines and [drug] trials, but at the end of the day, there's one cure and that cure is prevention," she said.
09.20.2010; Erin Negley
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