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If you think being tasked with scanning and organizing old newsletters doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, then you would be right. It isn’t.

Recently, a box of ASA’s old newsletters turned up at our office, hidden in the back of the Helping Hands Food Bank. The box was weathered, sporting stains and rips over most of its surface. The moment the box was handed to me (I being one of ASA’s summer interns), I knew I was in for it. All I could imagine were the many disgusting things that could be inside of it. Dead bugs were a definite possibility. Dusty papers were guaranteed.

image003At first, everything went smoothly. This was the type of mindless work that requires agile hands, but little else. Little did I know that the work would become very tiring really fast. Perhaps it was the fact that I ran out of things to look at in the copy room, or the fact that my music playlist became repetitive and I irritable. All I knew is that I soon I was hunching over like a sad Charlie Brown. Three-quarters of the newsletters still had not been touched. My day was souring fast!

And then, after looking around the copy room for what seemed like the 30th time, I found the stimulation I desperately needed. Little by little, the newsletter headlines started grabbing me. Among my favorite were 1988’s “Federal AZT Funding Temporarily Restored,” 1991’s “New Telephone System Enables Improved ASA Service Despite Initial Frustrations,” and 1992’s “Living with HIV: Demanding Work from Every Angle.” Before I knew it I was sitting down and devouring the articles as if they were Harry Potter novels.

The articles took me back in time. All of them had a sense of importance because of the history they discussed, but none were dry or boring. Articles highlighting events like a 1988 garage sale pointed to ASA’s humble beginnings, and its dependence on the community, something which is still true today. Reading about the 1988 “Walkathon” and its success in fundraising $82,000 immediately made me think of how much ASA has grown as an organization. Last year’s AIDS Walk, for instance, raised over $250,000, and this year our goal has increased to $275,000 big ones. ASA has blossomed and continues to do so thanks to everyone’s support. There were also articles that pointed to the type of stigma faced by people living with HIV back when information about the infection was still scarce. A 1990 headline “Study Proves Saliva Doesn’t Pass AIDS,” is very telling of how far we’ve come in our understanding of HIV and AIDS.

image005Seeing the many faces of the people that have worked at ASA over the years was also captivating. The folks who work in our office have always been a diverse group, and getting to see the many group photos and reading snippets of information about newly hired employees was like looking through an old family album. The highlight of my day was reading about Sylvia Lopez (ASA’s 11th hired employee!) and then getting to talk to her and hear about how committed she still is to ASA’s mission.

The box of newsletters was like a time capsule, with hidden treasures in every one of its articles.

As my time with ASA nears its end, I can’t help but be happy I got to spend this particular day being exposed to its history. It was rewarding to see the organization’s evolution, from black and white newsletters in 1988 that had to be assembled by hand, to the colorful six-page mailers we produce now. ASA’s thriving history is painted on the covers of its newsletters.

By the end of the day I was seeing dark spots from being near the scanner for so long. My fingertips were stained with ink from touching the paper so much, and I had suffered from at least 3 paper cuts. And yet, I knew that this (much exaggerated) agony was completely worth it. Uploading the last newsletter to our server gave me the satisfaction of knowing that I was finally done, but also that I had just received the best type of history lesson there is. The kind that approaches you sneakily, so that by the end all you can do is smile at having learned so much.

Click here to check out some of ASA’s latest and archived newsletters!

Juan is one of ASA’s summer interns, and he finished his internship with us last week. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors, and thank him for his help over the summer with this project and many others.