5 questions with Dara Austin
Dara Austin is executive director of AIDS Outreach Center of Greater Dallas. This week, she and her staff are making final preparations for AIDS Walk Tarrant County, one of the agency’s two largest fundraisers each year. AIDS Walk Tarrant County begins at 3 p.m. Sunday in Frog Alley, in front of Amon G. Carter Stadium at Texas Christian University.
How long have you been involved with AIDS Outreach Center?
I have been executive director here for three years. Before that, I worked in business development with the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce for about four years. But I have extensive experience in the field of non-profit management, starting with America’s Second Harvest’s East Texas Regional Food Bank, which I helped start.
Why did you leave the chamber to work for AIDS Outreach Center?
I had never really been involved in the HIV/AIDS field, but it was something I had always been very concerned with, because our society has never really “‘owned’ the disease. Too many people see it as something that affects other people, but never them. And I missed non-profit work. So when a friend referred me to the search firm trying to fill this position, I took the job.
Has the changing face of HIV changed your organization’s mission?
Our tagline is, “It’s about all of us.” Yes, the face of the epidemic has changed, with infection rates rising in certain minority communities and among women. But infection rates are also rising among young gay men. We are here to educate and promote awareness to all people.
Do you see a change in the way society sees the AIDS epidemic?
This is our 20th year, and although the stigma and barriers to treatment are not as harsh as they once were, they do still exist. It’s distressing, after 20 years, that people still don’t see HIV as a public health issue we all need to address.
How important is AIDS Walk Tarrant County to AIDS Outreach Center.
As one of our two largest fundraisers each year Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS is the other it’s very important. Most of the federal funding we get is targeted for specific communities and programs. Private funding and proceeds from the AIDS Walk have to fill in the gaps and allow us to maintain services and programs the federal funds don’t cover.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, March 31, 2006.