When she retired after 31 years of teaching, Elsie Cofield thought she had accomplished all of her goals. The wife of the Rev. Curtis M. Cofield II of Immanuel Missionary Baptist Church, Cofield was involved in the community but described her life as sheltered.
“I was born on a turnip farm in North Carolina,” Cofield said. “In the second grade I wanted to be a teacher and marry a preacher.”
But today Cofield is far from retired. She is the founder-president of AIDS Interfaith Network, Inc., a 21-room treatment center that also runs a day program for AIDS and HIV patients. The center also sponsors programs such as a teen hot line, substance abuse counseling, and the “Sunshine Corner” for children affected by HIV/AIDS and other illnesses.
New Haven honored Cofield in May 2000 by renaming a street after her. Elsie Cofield Way is now located off Chapel Street between Dwight and Day streets.
Cofield became involved with AIDS activism when she retired from teaching 14 years ago. At that time, Yale Divinity School student Alison Moore DIV ’90 told Cofield that there was a large need for support for minorities affected by the AIDS virus in the New Haven community. After serious soul searching and prayer, Cofield decided to do something about it.
“It was the last thing from my mind,” Cofield said. “There were a lot of black people dying of AIDS, and nobody was helping the minorities.”
“I did see the need because we had so many people at our church [who were affected by the virus],” she added. “God just had more for me to do.”
A brochure released by AIDS Interfaith describes the organization’s mission as threefold:
“To minister to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of people living with AIDS; to carry the message of AIDS prevention to every segment of the community; and to broaden the base of support for persons living with AIDS or who are HIV+ by teaching the community to provide care that is compassionate and non-judgmental.”
AIDS Interfaith also collaborates with other AIDS organizations in New Haven.
“We work really well with all the other programs,” Cofield said.
Ellen Gabrielle, the executive director of the New Haven AIDS Project, said clients share the services of both organizations.
“Mrs. Cofield was very kind to me. She helped me to understand some of the issues in our community,” Gabrielle said. “She is steadfast in her involvement. She is an advocate, fighting for anyone living with HIV or AIDS.”
Cofield said she has been described as an advocate and an angel but initially people did not want to hear what she had to say.
“It was hard at first,” Cofield said. “People always said, ‘She won’t stay around.’ They didn’t want me, but I’m here.”
AIDS Interfaith has grown significantly since the early days.
“We started out with nothing,” Cofield said. “Now we have 30 people on our staff.”
Cofield said that there is still work to be done, especially in prevention and support for children whose parents have AIDS.
“We got to keep on teaching prevention and making sure that the people we love get tested,” Cofield said. “[There is] the need for continual support for children when their parents die. We lose so many parents, and there is no place for the children.”
In addition to her community activism, Cofield still finds time for personal projects. Cofield has written poetry since she was young and said she would like to publish some of it soon.
“When I get disturbed or distressed I write,” Cofield said. “I always enjoyed writing and talking to the sky and the moon and the sun.”
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”20143″ ]