Although state funding for HIV prevention has decreased over the past year, AIDS Project New Haven received a state grant in June for its prevention and outreach work.
Located on Chapel St., AIDS Project New Haven is an AIDS service organization that provides food, therapeutic treatments and financial assistance to roughly 300 residents of the greater New Haven area suffering from HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses. Executive Director Christopher Cole said APHN received a $382,000 grant for both 2013 and 2014 from Connecticut’s Department of Public Health to expand the organization’s prevention outreach programs within the community, primarily those that involve administering HIV tests, linking clients to direct medical care and providing comprehensive counseling to both HIV-positive individuals and at-risk HIV-negative individuals.
Since its founding in 1983, APNH has undergone drastic changes in its services as well as its organizational structure. APNH, like other HIV/AIDS-related organizations across the country, was mainly started by volunteers.
“It was a group of concerned and affected individuals who came together to support those in the community who were dying,” Cole said.
In the early years of the organization, volunteer and worker positions did not require as much prior professional training as they do now. Today, positions such as medical case manager — which did not exist when APNH first began — do require specialized training.
“We have come from a volunteer-based, crisis-based organization to being much more strategic, professional, clinical and accountable in our care,” Cole said.
Short of hiring actual physicians to work at the organization, APNH does everything in its power to connect clients to the treatment they need, he added. APNH primarily offers financial assistance to clients who cannot afford all the treatments they require, but also offers support groups, mental health services and even alternative therapies such as acupuncture.
“HIV today is a very manageable disease if you are compliant with your medical care,” Cole said.
APNH emphasizes working very closely with clients, he added. Each of the 200 case management clients meets with an assigned medical case manager as often as two or three times a week. These managers, who Cole referred to as “the backbone” of APNH’s services, ensure that clients receive emergency financial assistance, transportation, food, housing and any other psycho-social support they require.
Another service APNH offers is Caring Cuisine, a food service that prepares and delivers meals directly to the residences of clients whose health limits their ability to cook their own food. Unlike the majority of APNH’s services, Caring Cuisine is not financially need-based, but rather based on a client’s health condition.
APNH is primarily composed of 15 regular volunteers who mostly work for Caring Cuisine, serve as front desk receptionists or help out at special events. The organization also has a pool of approximately 30 volunteers to help whenever they are needed.
Volunteer Coordinator and Yale French professor Chris Semk said most of the volunteers are students. Many who choose to volunteer do so because they have lost loved ones who passed away from AIDS, he added.
“I have friends who are positive — I have seen what they have struggled with and I see the work that needs to be done in terms of advocacy and care,” Semk said.
Even in the midst of offering comprehensive services, APNH staff and volunteers stressed the importance of providing community and comfort.
APNH’s support groups, psychotherapeutic services and even a Tuesday afternoon movie club help to make clients feel like they belong to a community.
“We are very intentionally a homey environment, a non-clinical environment,” Cole said.
He added that this friendly mentality is a key aspect of the organization’s mission to be “non-judgmental” in its services. When he first began working at APNH in 2008, several clients, staff members and board members had expressed concern regarding the potential stigma associated with placing a sign on the organization’s building. It took a year and a half for APNH to get a sign on its building, Cole said.
Volunteer Receptionist Kendra O’Connor said one of her important responsibilities is to make sure clients “don’t need to feel embarrassed for whatever reason they are coming in for.”
AIDS Project New Haven is Connecticut’s oldest AIDS service organization.