Arizona: From a Crisis, Faith for Co-Founder of Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network
With 39 member congregations, the Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network provides HIV/AIDS education and support for those living with the disease as well as volunteer opportunities for area residents. TIHAN has served more than 700 clients since it started in 1994.
Ironically, the nonprofit's co-founder, Scott Blades, "did not have a good perception of religion" as a young man. He did not come from a churchgoing family and avoided organized religion. When his best friend was diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, the man's family -- including his father, who was also a pastor -- rejected him, confirming Blade's assumptions. "I thought, 'How could someone reject their own son?'" said Blades, who is gay.
After a "little midlife crisis at the age of 27," Blades joined a support group for gays that happened to meet in a United Methodist church, St. Francis in the Foothills. There, his journey to faith came full circle. "Not the expectations of my youth, but a bunch of people walking the road together, trying to figure it all out."
After a congregant one day declared he had AIDS, the church rallied behind the man, helping care for him until his death. "The light bulb went off in my head," said Blades. He soon organized a training session at St. Francis and another church about how to care for people with HIV/AIDS. Having an event involving two congregations was great, but "shouldn't there be more?" he thought.
Blades and other organizers eventually invited 450 Tucson-area churches, synagogues, mosques, and other faith-based groups to a meeting aimed at kickstarting an interfaith movement for HIV/AIDS understanding. Just five people attended, but those five became TIHAN's founding members.
For more information about TIHAN, visit www.tihan.org or telephone 520-299-6647.