AIN leaders to celebrate group’s 20th anniversary

Posted on 16 Oct 2006 at 7:04pm
By Beth Freed

LGBT people’s generosity helps agency expand work

The AIDS Interfaith Network is celebrating 20 years of service, and tonight the group invites the public to an open house at its facility, 501 N. Stemmons, Suite 200, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

“After 20 years, we’re still here!” said the Rev. Steven Pace, executive director. “Because we have received great support from the community, we’ve been able to stay true to who we are.”

The anniversary celebration will include an art show, door prizes, entertainment, refreshments and a silent auction.

The annual volunteer recognition ceremony will start at 7 p.m. The event is free, although donations are welcome.

AIN serves more than 1,700 people living with HIV/AIDS and reaches more than 25,000 people through outreach, officials said. In addition to standard care programs, such as emotional and spiritual support and prevention case management, AIN offers programs unique to the Dallas area. Their transportation services and the Daire Center, which serves meals and offers daily care to adult clientele, are unparalleled throughout the metroplex, they said.

“AIDS Interfaith Network is the unsung hero of the HIV/AIDS organizations in Dallas,” said Andy Smith, president of the board.

Grace McFerren has volunteered as part of the Care Team for AIN since 1993 and has served on the board of directors since 2004. As a Care Team volunteer, she provides in-house assistance to clients living with AIDS. She socializes, cleans and cooks for the people she works with.

She said although it’s hard for her when clients pass away, she knows she made a difference for them while they were alive.

“It’s wonderful to meet people who’ve lived really interesting lives, and now they just happen to be sick,” she said. “They have a really outstanding approach to meeting adversity and shine in spite of what’s going on in their bodies.”

The center’s seven vans travel 30,000 miles each month to assist clients who are unable to make the voyage themselves, officials said, adding that AIN serves 18,000 meals annually to more than 500 people with HIV.

People of color make up 82 percent of AIN’s clients, with more than 63 percent African American and 19 percent Latino. Almost 95 percent of the total clients served by AIN receive less than $800 a month from Social Security, placing them well below the poverty line. Nearly 46 percent have substance abuse and mental health concerns in addition to their physical ailments.

The center, which began in 1986, is a faith-based nonprofit, but it is not affiliated with any specific religion or denomination. The Church of Transfiguration Episcopal, Metropolitan Community Churches and the St. Luke Community United Methodist Church have been ongoing supporters.

The LGBT community has also been a long-time partner with AIN. Although the group has sometimes been criticized for its strong ties to the LGBT community, it’s been an invaluable relationship, Pace said.

“The GLBT community had been there through the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s, and they’re still there now,” said Pace. “They take an interest and the GLBT community has never restricted who their help goes to, like other groups try to do.”

Since its inception, AIN has added several programs to their original therapeutic services. The Care Team, which sends volunteers to the homes of clients, began in 1988. In an effort to provide culturally sensitive material to underserved populations, the African American Health Coalition and Manos Unidas were developed in 1991. By 1993, a casework program ensured timely aid for clients, and in 1995, an interpretation and translation program helped provide access to Spanish-speaking clients.

Funding has been a continual obstacle for the group, as it is for many non-profits.

Nearly 65 percent of funding comes from various government grants, while the remaining funds are contributed by a variety of community organizations.

Pace thinks part of the problem is maintaining a sense of urgency in the public’s mind.

“People draw back from a crisis that goes on for this long,” Pace said. “As a country, we do well with short-term crisis, but not the long-term problems.”

E-mail freed@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, November 17, 2006.

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