John Boeglin repays the help he gets as a client at AOC by also being a volunteer at the agency
TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
FORT WORTH — John Boeglin, first diagnosed with AIDS in 1989, has been a client of Tarrant County’s AIDS Outreach Center off and on since 1991.
But Boeglin doesn’t just go to the center for help for himself; he helps others in turn by volunteering at AOC. And he has taken his volunteerism a step forward by looking for — and finding — ways to help the agency go a little more green.
“I have volunteered in different parts of AIDS Outreach, and I had volunteered in the food pantry for about four years when I started thinking that there was a real need for us to start incorporating recycling into all of our events,” Boeglin said.
So he took the initiative of coordinating with the city to get recycle bins at the agency and has been leading AOC’s recycling efforts in the three years since then.
“It’s not very profitable. But at least we are helping the environment. We can now take all the cardboard and plastic and aluminum that comes through here and recycle it, instead of having it all end up in a landfill somewhere,” he said.
He added, “I have always been cautious about my own carbon footprint, about the impact I have on the environment. I was always riding a bicycle everywhere. I didn’t even have a car until my father passed away.”
Boeglin has also been a big supporter of AOC’s annual AIDS Walk, both as a walker and as a volunteer who helps set up on the day of the event, and then take everything down and put it away when it’s over.
“I’m usually there from the first thing in the morning until that night when it’s all done,” he said. “And I have walked in the AIDS Walk for at least 10 years now.”
Boeglin said he volunteers with and walks in the AIDS Walk, now in its 19th year, because “it helps earn money to pay for the services that we need. And with all the cuts the government has made since 2000, that money has become a real necessity.
“This agency probably wouldn’t make it without the money from the AIDS Walk,” he continued. “Because of all the changes made by the previous administration [under President George W. Bush], people can’t even get on disability now. A lot of people wouldn’t be able to make it without the programs at AIDS Outreach Center.”
Boeglin said he first started doing volunteer work “primarily because there wasn’t a lot else to do. Those of us who were diagnosed in the 1980s and early ’90s, we found out we were sick and so we started planning for the end of our lives. Then all of a sudden, we realized we weren’t dying.
“So we tried to go back to work, but we either couldn’t get jobs at all, or we couldn’t get jobs that would actually pay the bills,” he said. “So we found ourselves sitting around our apartments with nothing to do. That’s how it happened with me. So I started volunteering.”
Boeglin said he volunteered with the Healing Wings program at JPS Hospital and then later at AIDS Outreach when the program moved. He has also volunteered with Q Cinema and has been involved with Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats. He has been politically active as well, once getting a scholarship that allowed him to fly to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress on behalf of the AIDS Drugs Assistance Program.
He said he has lobbied the Texas Legislature on HIV and LGBT related issues, too.
“Sometimes, you can get a little burned out when you stay in one place, doing one thing for too long. So I avoid the burnout by going from one place to another,” Boeglin said. “After I had volunteered at the food pantry [at AOC] for several years, it started to get really difficult. When you start losing so many people, it gets hard. You come in and even though you know they’re gone, you keep looking for them, keep waiting to see them. It’s hard.”
That was one reason, he said, that he chose to work with Q Cinema. “I needed to do things that let me see more people that are affected by HIV instead only seeing people who are infected with HIV. I needed that change of pace,” he explained.
Boeglin has a lot of hobbies, too, that help keep him busy and healthy. He is a writer and an artist and works in wood crafting. He also likes to attend Scarborough Faire and sci-fi conventions, and will be volunteering at an upcoming convention here in North Texas.
Boeglin said his interest in sci-fi conventions grew out of a fascination with science and with space that began when he was a child and sat with his grandfather to watch as Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.
“Did you know that it was protease inhibitors developed during experiments on the space shuttle that led to the use of the ‘drug cocktails’ in the 1995 that have helped people with AIDS live better and longer?” Boeglin asks. “They were able to grow these protein crystals large enough in space with zero gravity to be able to see how they would affect how HIV is able to enter cells. And millions of us are alive today because of those experiments they did on the space shuttle in 1995.”
While some people may joke about the sci fi convention fans and the separate world they sometimes seem to live in, Boeglin sees a kind of nobility in that world that gives him hope for a better future in this one.
“The conventions and the fans, there’s a very, very good sense of community there, just like there is here at AIDS Outreach,” Boeglin said. “It makes me believe that someday that altruistic future [of the sci-fi world] may really someday come true, because people care enough to be here, to be at the AIDS Walk and participate in it — the ones who don’t have to be there, but are there anyway, and the ones who struggle to be there and make a difference. It gives me hope.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 1, 2011.