Open House Showcases Programs and Volunteers – Part 1
On February 9, AIDS Services of Austin hosted the second of its Monthly open house at its Cameron Road offices. Open to the public, the aim of the occasion: “to foster communication with the Austin community on why ASA is so important,” said Executive Director Paul Scott. Since opening its doors in 1987, ASA has provided invaluable support and validation to people living with HIV and AIDS in Central Texas – but the mission does not end with medical care. As Board Member Patrick Roth put it, “We have the tools to put a stop to this epidemic right now – by getting out in the community. ASA and other grassroots organizations are the only ones really doing it.” And as pointed out by Board Member and pro-bono client attorney Fred Suttan, the need for community-based care is just as evident in 2016 as in the initial epidemic of the 1980s and 90s: “It’s shocking that in Austin, Texas, in 2016, someone can be threatened with disclosure of their status to yield influence, especially those of limited means. Clients are always so grateful for the work we do.”
Part of engaging the community means highlighting those initiatives fueled by the volunteers who donate their time and energy to improve the health and wellbeing of HIV positive Central Texans and those at risk. The Open House was one hour and included lunch along with a short tour of the facility by Paul Scott. It gave visitors a close up of three integral ASA care and prevention programs.
Helping Hands Food Bank
The food bank is entirely volunteer run, with an average of 200 volunteers clocking in each year – a total of 4,000 hours were logged in 2015 alone! It is designed as a supplementary nutrition program to keep clients healthy and make medication adherence easier with balanced nutrition. Serving on average 200 clients a month, it provides a variety of fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables, dairy, eggs, and proteins, including vegetarian-friendly options. Items are individually packaged in single servings to make meal planning and prep easier. Additionally, household items and personal hygiene products are provided on a rotating basis each month. Helping Hands is also one of the few food banks in Texas serving up vegetable juice, and is partnered with Austin non-profit Urban Roots to supply clients with organic produce options.
Unlike many other nutrition assistance programs, Helping Hands clients are able to customize their own monthly menus, allowing them to exercise autonomy in their healthcare regime by choosing what goes into their bodies. “We put the emphasis on client choice,” said Food Bank Director Jennifer Searight, “and it’s much nicer than getting a random box!”
The food bank is open twice a month, 3 days a week. To qualify, clients must be at or below the federal poverty level and must be case-managed, though not necessarily through ASA.
Our Monthly Open House is open to the public. register here.
Thank you Nori Hubert for submitting this post.
Brenda was born and raised in Austin. She attended Reagan High School on the north side of town. In 2012, she found herself homeless and HIV-positive.
When you are homeless, it is hard to enough to find shelter and warmth, get a regular meal, and find a safe place to sleep at night. The smallest things become huge obstacles. Keeping appointments with doctors is hard without transportation. Receiving, storing, and adhering to life-saving HIV medications is difficult. Your health becomes secondary.
Brenda came to ASA for help. ASA case manager, Illene, assisted with stable housing, but Brenda was still struggling with keeping regular appointments and adhering to her HIV medication.
Brenda enrolled in ASA’s Positive Living through Understanding (PLUS) Program. The PLUS Program helps people develop life skills that enable them to keep appointments and improve medication adherence. Participants gain control of their health and improve their HIV viral suppression.
Brenda thrived under the PLUS Program. She gained control over her HIV. And her mental and physical transformation was remarkable. She is proud of her progress. “ASA taught me to just take it one day at a time and do short term goals,” she says. “Its amazing how I can see some of my high school friends and they recognize me right off…Everybody says I look great and haven’t changed a bit.”
“[ASA] made a big difference… I feel real good that I am healthy and strong with a roof over my head.”
“I have to come to understand that I need to take things one thing at a time… It’s getting better all the time.”
Brenda says of her HIV status:
“It’s not nothing that I wanted to hide from anybody… but I have to be cautious of sharing because people take just a little bit and run with it. A lot of people are still ignorant [about HIV]…Once I got my medication, I started to feel better and look better… People are looking at me hard… friends are like ‘she don’t look no different’.”
“To everybody who is HIV positive…It’s not a death sentence anymore. If you take your medication, you can be fine… If you take your medication, you can live a long, long life.”
Brenda took small steps that lead to positive changes in her life. You can too! By taking the step to donate to ASA, you can help central Texans like Benda take control of their health and improve HIV viral suppression.
Forrest Letson always knew he wanted a career in radio. “I’ve always been a Top 40 guy,” he says, “I did dance in Austin and San Francisco and have a passion for dancing, so I decided to fuse the two together.” Forrest, also known as Partyboy Bueller, fused these two passions to create Partyboy Radio, a round-the-clock station on Live365. The station features Top 40 hits from artists like Drake, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift. And Forrest’s favorite artist right now? Justin Bieber. “I’ve got Bieber fever!” he admits.
Forrest began working in the Austin radio scene when he was only 15 years old. After living in cities like Dallas and Palm Springs, he returned to his home town and decided to start the radio station. “It was my dad’s idea,” he says, noting that Partyboy Radio is a son and pop operation. Forrest handles the programming, music, and talent, while his dad is “more of the engineer.”
Like any job, there are challenges. “Sometimes we are under pressure to put a show together last minute – a guest cancels…[it’s] live radio, these things are going to happen,” says Forrest, who adds that it’s mostly really fun work. He likes for his staff to “have creative freedom. I want everyone to present their personalities on air. [We] welcome differences in variety…we have drag queens on air.”
Forrest is proud that Partyboy Radio is one of the only LGBT-owned stations in Central Texas. Anyone can listen by downloading the Live365 app and using the keyword: partyboy. Listeners can also check out the personalities at http://www.partyboyradio.com. The station is expanding their staff and currently interviewing for spots. For more information, contact Forrest at email@example.com
On Saturday, December 12th, Partyboy Radio is hosting the Winter Masquerade Ball which will benefit AIDS Services of Austin. The organization is near to Forrest’s heart, saying that ASA “[focuses] on a very holistic approach to living with HIV and AIDS. It’s important for people to be more educated about HIV and AIDS.” Forrest often mentions on his shows about the importance of this. “I always encourage people to check out ASA, get tested, know their status, and learn [how] you can live with HIV and how to deal with stigma.”
He continues, “Education is the number one priority. I am part of the LGBT community and ten years ago I didn’t understand what [HIV] was. I started having friends come out and tell me they were positive, and I was forced to learn more about it.” Guests at the Winter Masquerade Ball are encouraged to wear something red to show their support for HIV and AIDS awareness.
The Masquerade Ball will feature a fun array of musicians and entertainers. Sarah Jane, a rock star flute player, is on the lineup alongside the blues sounds of Busk Walkers and The Swamp Bats. Female impersonators Mechelle Marco, Kelly Kline, and Goldie Haynes will be performing individually on stage. And don’t forget the go-go dancers, Jello shots, and cupcakes! Dress is cocktail attire. Entry is free, and all proceeds from the evening will benefit ASA.
You can learn more by checking out the Facebook event page at https://www.facebook.com/events/1207045079322639/. Special shout outs go to Carrie Steffen, Richard Letson, Gino and Ashley, and all of the volunteers that evening. Thanks also to sponsors Lagunitas Brewing Company, The Metropolis Apartments, Package Menswear and Wake and Bake. Partyboy Bueller is also the founder of Partyboys Do Good that raises money for various charities. The event details are at partyboysdogood.moonfruit.com.
Get your masquerade mask and red attire ready, and we’ll see you on December 12th!
The best deals for all your favorite Austin restaurants and businesses are at La Gift Card Fete! Join hosts The Octopus Club and INK for a shopping party featuring gift cards from Austin retailers, accompanied by pastries and mimosas! All gift cards are 20% face value with 100% of every single penny raised benefiting the Paul Kirby Emergency Fund, which serves as a cash fund of last resort for clients of AIDS Services of Austin!
La Gift Card Fete 2015
Saturday, December 5, 2015
Noon – 2 PM
Alori Properties Office
509 Oakland Ave.
Austin, Texas 78703
Check La Gift Card Fete’s Facebook event page for an updated list of participating retailers. If you’re a business owner that wants to participate, contact The Octopus Club at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Octopus Club, INK, and the Paul Kirby Fund
The Octopus Club is a grassroots all-volunteer organization dedicated to raising funds and awareness for the Paul Kirby Emergency Fund at AIDS Services of Austin through annual events and parties. Since its founding in 1989, the Octopus Club has raised more than $2.1 million for the fund, assisting more than 800 AIDS Services of Austin clients. It raised more than $140,000 for the fund in 2014 alone. INK is a spinoff of the Octopus Club whose mission is Uniting Young Professionals, Advancing the Paul Kirby Fund, and Promoting Safe Sex. Its most recent fundraiser brunch in June raised more than $4,000 for the fund.
The Paul Kirby Emergency Fund at AIDS Services of Austin provides emergency financial assistance to individuals infected with or affected by HIV in Central Texas. These funds are distributed to individuals for basic living needs on a case-by-case basis. Services paid for by the Fund include assistance with emergency food, housing and utilities, medical care, medication, and transportation. When they have nowhere else to turn, the Paul Kirby Emergency Fund is a helping hand of last resort.
Many of you have probably heard that Wade Davis is this year’s AIDS Walk Austin Honorary Chair. What you may not know is where Wade’s passion for HIV awareness and advocacy comes from, especially when it comes to LGBTQ youth. When Wade learned about ASA’s Mpowerment Project, The Q Austin, he immediately expressed interest in the group’s mission, which works with young gay, bi, trans, and questioning men to reduce raising HIV contraction rates while raising awareness and fighting stigma through community mobilization. The Q’s Core Group of volunteers, who meet every Wednesday, came up with a few questions to help us get to know Wade a little more. The Q’s Mpowerment Coordinator, Marcus Sanchez, had the pleasure of talking to Wade in preparation for AIDS Walk Austin on November 8th!
MS: Hi Wade, thanks so much for your time today. The first question our Core Group has for you is, What was it like to be closeted in the NFL?
WD: The best way to describe that would be living a double life. On the outside you are this very hyper-masculine male who talks about girls. Someone who re-tells stories he’s heard other men tell as his own. On the inside there was this scared little boy, for lack of a better phrase. Even though I was in my 20’s I still wasn’t able to be myself. I was this scared little boy who really just wanted to play football. I was blessed with a really beautiful gift to be able to run fast and had a really intuitive understanding of the game of football but I never truly believed that being gay and being a professional athlete could ever co-exist peacefully. The other thing I would say is I was really hyper-vigilant. I was always checking, double checking, and triple checking everything I was doing. As I was talking it was actually a script to make sure what I was saying was appropriate for that space and also doing a scan of everyone’s expressions and body language to make sure I wasn’t doing anything that would call me out as being gay. It was exhausting as hell but after you do it for so many years it becomes a way of life.
MS: Thanks Wade. That must have been really hard to do for so long. I know you are probably still heavily involved with the Hetrick-Martin Institute, and you speak a lot about HIV prevention, particularly in youth. Where does this passion come from?
WD: I took a job 4 years ago with an organization in New York City called the Hetrick-Martin Institute which is actually the home of the Harvey Milk High School and it was the first time I had a really honest experience with LGBT youth. These young people are between the ages of 14 and 24. They are marginally housed, they are homeless, and many are already HIV positive or at “high-risk” of contracting the virus. It was my first experience with young people who identify as trans* and they changed my life. There are rare times when you are exposed to people who are honest and real without a filter because they had to be that as a way to survive. Witnessing that type of bold courage changed my perspective on everything. I used to stick to the idea that protecting yourself from HIV was as simple as putting on a condom. I didn’t really have any understanding of the intersection of ways like poverty and shame, and homelessness, and all of these things can create an environment where you put yourself at risk to doing certain things because you’re trying to work through all these other issues at the exact same time. I was blinded by my own privilege that I didn’t take the time to actually listen to the stories the young people were telling before I took this job. Once I worked there and you have a young person look at you in the face and say “Why are you even here when you’re not even listening?” It took a few years of seeing myself in them that really helped me realize that it wasn’t my responsibility to save these young people, it was my responsibility to use my access and privilege to allow them to chose what the best life for themselves was and to help give them access to opportunities. To help them understand that they had an agency, and people to care about them, and to empathize but not offer pity. It was that experience that lit a fire in me to use my status to create a platform to share their story. Their stories were often the ones that didn’t see the light of day, and not just those of sadness but also those of great triumph. These stories are the ones that need to be heard. I don’t like referring to these young people as “at-risk.” I believe language is very powerful and I like to say these young people are “at-promise” and teach these young people that they do have promise. It’s my responsibility to help them see that and to also help other people who may have come in with the same misconceptions I once had to see that promise in these young people too.
MS: Wow, that sounds like a really powerful experience. You mentioned a lot of these young people were already positive and you were working with these young people first hand in New York. That sounds like a lot of responsibility. What was it like coming from where you were before to now working with young HIV positive and “at-risk” people?
WD: I came from the corporate world and in a lot of ways was not qualified for this job. I was fortunate enough that the Executive Director at the time saw something in me. He was willing to give me the opportunity to work at this wonderful organization. It was humbling, it was scary… meaning I had to look at myself. Before working there I never had to confront my own internal shame and homophobia. That part of it was scary and there were times when I felt helpless because when you work with young people and you see their promise, and you have the mindset that you are there to save them then you feel helpless. You have to shift that mindset from savior to helper and when you realize that you are there to help it becomes less of a burden and you do become a container for these young people. A lot of them are homeless with stories of living on the streets and dealing with the police, and other violence so you want to protect them. You end up picking up and leaving with the stuff they are going through and I needed to practice self-care more than I ever had to in my entire life. Once you are there long enough, and my supervisor told me this when I first started and I didn’t realize what she meant until months later, she said “Their successes are your successes and their failures are your failures.” I didn’t get it at first and it took me a long time to realize what she meant. These young people are going to make mistakes and also have successes. They are no different from when you were a kid and hopefully had parents who let you make mistakes and have successes. You have to create the same experience for these young people even though their circumstances may be very different.
MS: The guys here at the Q are interested to know more about the #ThisisLuv hashtag?
WD: So the “This is Love” campaign was developed by myself and my business partner and very great friend Darnell Moore and another good friend Tiq Milan. Right around the show “Empire” came out with the premiere of season one, it sparked a lot of interesting dialogue around the ways the black community specifically was homophobic and it painted a myth the black community was more homophobic than other communities. What we wanted to do was create a campaign that spoke to that narrative with beautiful stories of men women, gay, straight, bisexual, and trans individuals who identified with LGBT who were loved and affirmed by their black family. We wanted to make sure we told every different type of story so that people of color, especially young people, could see that there were spaces and stories of these people who are loved and affirmed. We wanted to have a week long period where we had different people, celebrities and non-celebrities, share their stories and we finished the week off with a panel discussion at HRC in DC where we had people like Jason Collins and a bunch of other wonderful people who came and talked about being loved by their African-American family members.
MS: That’s a great concept! I myself am Latino so I know it’s out there and I definitely get how the stigma and homophobia in communities of color are depicted in the media.
WD: Right, and that’s the only story that’s being told. Just having the chance to work with so many young people who identify as LGBT and people of color I’ve noticed that they’ve bought into this depiction of homophobia in our communities. One of the experiences I had was with a young girl who I taught who said she couldn’t come out to her mother because she would never accept her because she was from the Islands and wouldn’t understand. Her mother was one of the few parents I spoke to on the phone and I was pretty sure that her mother knew that her daughter was a lesbian. We don’t divulge any personal information, but as I am talking to her mother I’m thinking, “Her mother knows.” I would ask my student to engage her mother in conversation about lesbian and gay people in general just to see how she responds but she thought “no, she’ll never accept me.” She later ran away from home and I saw probably 4 or 5 months later. She was smiling… so I asked her how everything was going with her mother. She said “Oh I already moved back home. My mother already knew!” Just the idea that she bought into the myth that her mother would never accept her… she didn’t even giver her mother a chance. Those types of experiences have really sparked the interest of myself, Tiq, and Darnell, and make us think, “What can we do with our public platforms to really make more powerful and positive experiences and sharing of love?”
MS: That’s a really great idea and I think it’s great you guys are taking that on. I know those ideas can be damaging to young people and can keep them in the closet longer than they have to be. The amount of personal distress that puts on these young people is horrible. Thank you for sharing that, that’s really amazing!
WD: We plan on doing this next year as well so if any of your young people, or you yourself, at your organization would like to get involved… we partner with Ebony Magazine and a bunch of other organizations as well and we are trying to expand and make it better with more experiences and stories.
MS: Great, yeah! I will definitely pass that along to the guys. I’m sure they would love to represent Austin in that capacity. That’s awesome! I look forward to watching this campaign grow! So our next question and you’ve probably gotten this one a lot. What was it like to be one of the first NFL players to come out as gay?
WD: This might sound crazy but I honestly thought it wasn’t going to be a big deal. I thought it would be a story for a day or two. I’d do a few interviews and it would be over. The next thing I knew I was the most Googled person on earth for 2 days. It was scary at first because I didn’t know what I was going to say. I had my story but, because of my naiveté, I didn’t think about how much of an impact it would have on others. What was so beautiful about it was that because of the work I’ve done with the Institute I was able to be put in the place that I was. The training I received and being a thought leader had prepared me to be someone who could speak publicly about sexual orientation and gender identity.
MS: What advice would you give young gay, bi, trans*, or questioning men who sleep with other men, like the ones we work with at The Q, who may sometimes feel pressured to participate in “at-risk” behavior they may not feel comfortable with? How would you empower them to be an advocate for their own sexual health?
WD: That’s a really wonderful question! One of the number one things I’ve done for myself is look at my past experiences that I may not be proud of, but I look back and think “Why did I do that? Why did I participate in something quote/unquote risky behavior?” Often times it was because I wanted to feel loved or desired or have someone else created something in me that hadn’t already existed. My number one advice to young people is to do the work within themselves to truly love themselves. That sounds so cliché but it’s important to truly love ourselves but we don’t always have the tools to do that so my advice is to find ways to practice skills of self love that will lessen the chance of looking for that in someone else. Part of the work in that is giving young people those skills. For myself I say daily self affirmations. There are days that I do not feel attractive so I wake up and look in the mirror and tell myself “You really look beautiful today.” I’ll say it again and again and then I meditate. I’ve had to find ways to center myself and feel comfortable with myself which is not always easy to do but I’m trying to find ways to do the internal excavation work to get rid of all the shame and self loathing so that’s my advice. Find a practice that you can do every day to learn to love yourself more and more every day.
MS: That’s really great advice and that’s all the questions we have but before we go, you are the Honorary Chair of Austin AIDS Walk this year, and we are really excited about that! Is there anything Austin should know before we get to meet Wade Davis in person?
WD: Austin should know that my on huge weakness is shoes. I have a weakness for sneakers. It’s something I’m trying to rid myself of but I really love shoes. Oh, there’s another thing. Austin cannot talk trash about Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, or Janet Jackson… OFF LIMITS!
MS: OH MY GOD YES! That will not be a problem and you will totally fit in here at The Q for sure! All 3 rotate quite frequently in our play lists.
WD: Anyone else but Michael and Whitney it is too soon. It will always be too soon to talk about Whitney or Michael.
MS: I get that and totally agree! I’m sure you won’t have a problem with that here. That’s good to know. I’m glad I got that before we end here. This is totally cliché too but What about cowboy boots? Do you have any cowboy boots?
WD: Oooo I don’t like cowboy boots and I grew up in Louisiana. I’m a Southern boy but we called them sh*t kickers.
MS: Haha yes, I feel weird for even asking so you have to forgive me for my cliché moment. It was the natural from shoes to boots Texas question.
WD: No no no it’s ok but I won’t be caught dead in some cowboys but if I do whip my a**!
MS: Hahaha that’s great! Well thanks for your time we Wade we cannot wait to have you here for Austin AIDS Walk on November 8!
Becky Helton has raised funds and awareness for AIDS Walk Austin every year since its inception in 1988, and she has all the shirts to prove it (well, all except one.)
In the early, pre-internet years Becky prepared for the Walk by writing fundraising letters to friends at work and at her church. “I didn’t know anyone personally who had AIDS, but I hated that people were getting sick and not getting help. There was so much stigma attached to the disease. People were being ostracized; I remember an article appeared locally that really affected me, about a woman working for the City who fell ill and was diagnosed with AIDS. When she returned to work, she found that her desk had been segregated from her co-workers. Back then, even fundraising for AIDS relief was stigmatized by the public.”
So what motivated Becky to get involved with that first, brave Walk (then called From All Walks of Life)? “If you knew Glenn Maxey, you did the Walk.” Maxey had first become involved when quarantine of AIDS patients was recommended by a state legislator. As a legislative aide, Maxey had helped organize the defeat of that proposal, and by 1988 Maxey was the first executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby (now Equality Texas). Once involved at Glenn’s urging, Becky was in for the long haul.
Commitment and the persistence needed to follow through were not new to Becky. Once she saw an editorial in the Daily Texan about the presence on campus of statues of Confederate heroes, but not of Martin Luther King. Right away she and two others started a group dedicated to getting an MLK statue on the UT campus; 20 years later, the statue was dedicated. “If you see the need, you have to act.”
Becky spent most of her formative years in the Middle East, primarily in the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia (her father worked in the petroleum industry.) “I’ve seen what happens when people are not taken care of. Sick people should not have to beg in the streets, which is what I did see. How can we ignore people with so much need? How can our legislators cut funding to agencies helping people in need? I can’t understand how they could do that.”
“People say it is hard to ask for money, but the way I see it, I’m not asking for me, I’m asking for people I love who are HIV+.” Once while raising funds for the Walk she encountered John Lipscomb as he campaigned to become a county court-at-law judge. “I was wearing my Walk t-shirt, and I asked him for a donation. He literally got out his wallet and emptied it, donating it all to the Walk. And he continues to empty his wallet for the Walk if I see him and if I don’t, he donates online. So I get to be the conduit for other people’s generosity. I have no money myself; it’s the donors who are being generous. As Bono said, ‘we get to carry each other.’”
What about that t-shirt missing from her collection? “It was from the second or third Walk. The front had a drawing of a kid with the message ‘I have AIDS, please hug me.’ I thought it was really the wrong message, and I would not wear it.”
As impressive as her record is of participating in all the Walks, it didn’t stop there. “David Smith was how I got involved in the AIDS Ride. I had just finished the Walk; I was about 35 and overweight and really out of shape, huffing and puffing. David was handing out brochures promoting the first AIDS Ride, which was to be 125 miles over two days (now it is a much shorter, one-day event.) David looked me in the eye and said, ‘You can do this!’ I have belonged to David ever since. Only David would have done that: he didn’t see me as overweight—he saw the best in me. Every year since, I have done both the Walk and the Ride.”
Currently Becky is also training for a half-marathon to raise money for the Austin Children’s Shelter. Her goal is 15-minute miles (walking is ok in charity marathons.) This means she will be raising $750 for that project while simultaneously trying to reach her $2,000 goal for the 2015 Walk. “I’m trying to think of something different for the Children’s Shelter fundraising to avoid wearing out my donors. I have an action figure collection, and I may auction that off on eBay to help me reach my goal.”
Her friends know she will be asking them regularly to donate to the mission of AIDS Services of Austin, and they never fail to give. “The AIDS crisis has evolved with new treatment protocols, but people still get sick. Patients still need food that is healthy and easy to eat. ASA prepares home-cooked meals for those unable to prepare it, and the agency provides a Food Pantry for clients who are able to prepare their own food. ASA still needs to assist clients who have lost their jobs when they became ill (it’s still legal to fire people for that in Texas.) The need may appear to be less dire, but the services are still just as needed, and the needs are now much more complex; now ASA works with clients to make sure they have access to healthcare and are taking their medicine regularly and staying healthy. They provide dental services, which are integral to good health. Prevention efforts are just as important today.
“If there were no ASA, where would the AIDS crisis be today in our community? How much worse? We are currently seeing a surge in the infection rate among young people, so we need to do even more—so that in another 28 years we are not still doing this. I don’t want to be doing the Walk in my eighties, although I will if the need is still there.
“Make the world better, and you are part of it. I just want the world to be better, and I want that more than a new dress. But I would like to go to Ireland and participate in the Dublin City Triathlon, which has the coolest medal ever—it’s a piranha!” (The club that produces the triathlon is called the Piranhas.) Becky has done triathlons in Austin, but she is cross training now to be sure she finishes in the pack and not last. “And I might meet an Irishman or two.”