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.”
You are cordially invited to join us for an early afternoon promotional event benefiting ASA and the upcoming AIDS Walk 2015 at Gourmands Pub on October 17th from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Gourmands Pub is a family-owned, friendly neighborhood establishment located on the East side at 2316 Webberville Road. Gourmands strives to be unpretentious by offering a reasonably priced food menu with sandwiches, soups, and other appetizers and snacks. You can find their complete menu at lovethysandwich.com.
Gourmands wants to support non-profit organizations that are helping in their community. The family co-owners recently prioritized a few organizations and AIDS Services of Austin is at the top of their list, because AIDS and HIV has impacted several family friends. Tiffany Russell is one of the four family co-owners of Gourmands. She explains, “This will be our first experience staging a non-profit event. We are excited by the opportunity, and hope it will be a great success for ASA.”
At this event, Gourmands plans to highlight the upcoming AIDS Walk in November. An information table will be present and staffed with ASA staff and volunteers. The AIDS Walk is a priority for Tiffany, who is really excited about it. “I hope people will come out to sign up to walk, and also donate to the Walk”.
Tiffany’s idea for this fundraiser was initiated after her recent experience attending ASA’s Women’s Giving Circle Luncheon in May 2015. Tiffany was impressed by the speakers at the event, “because their stories were all very personal and moving.” She further recalls, “I was especially pleased to hear another guests at my own table explain how far a single gift donation made to ASA goes toward providing support in our community.”
Tiffany was first introduced to ASA through the efforts of her personal friend and ASA Development Committee member Annie Frierson. Annie shared her own praise for Gourmands support of ASA saying, “they are modeling the ideal behavior of community engagement that is needed from our business community.”
Donations at this event will be generated in part through a donation made by Lone Star Beer. Lone Star is providing both their namesake draft beer, as well as an alcoholic root beer, known as Not Your Father’s Root Beer. You can visit the Facebook event page for more information.
Reservations at Gourmands are accepted (and encouraged) for groups of 8 or more; otherwise, you can easily find a spot at the bar or a separate table on your own.
In January of 1992, Dr. Chris Fabre announced the opening of the Jack Sansing Dental Clinic (JSDC) by making a call to action. At the time, the Dental Clinic, or the HIV Dental Project as it was then known, was being housed at a location donated by the City Health Department and only operated on Saturdays. Dr. Fabre called on volunteers to fill the many positions that would be needed for the Clinic to operate smoothly, including dentists, dental assistants, and secretaries. He also asked for equipment donations.
The Jack Sansing Dental Clinic had humble beginnings, but it sure has come a long way.
Back when it was first founded, the Clinic’s mission was simple: to provide quality and affordable dental care to people living with HIV. This mission remains strong as ever. In many ways the Clinic became a service warrior for people living with HIV, many of whom faced rejection, fear, and discrimination from local dentists. Dr. Fabre understood that for people living with HIV, proper dental care is extremely important. The weak immune system caused by HIV and AIDS, can lead to oral cancers, opportunistic infections, and other periodontal diseases. These illnesses can prevent HIV+ people from being able to ingest food properly, which can in turn further weaken their immune system. Improved oral health facilitates proper nutrition and leads to stronger overall health.
Today, the Jack Sansing Dental Clinic provides care to about 1,600 people annually from ten different counties. Services available include oral examination, treatment planning, oral surgery, root canal treatment, periodontal therapy, restorative dentistry, removable prosthodontics, treatment of infection, and preventative oral health care. The Clinic is open Monday through Thursday from 8-5PM, and Friday from 8AM to noon.
Most recently, the Clinic moved to a new location. Now housed at 711 W 38th St. Suite E-4, the move resulted in an increase in capacity of 22%. Those interested in receiving services at JSDC need to be seeing a regular doctor, but do not need to be in case management. The Clinic provides services to clients of all income levels.
In his 1992 announcement of the opening of the Jack Sansing Dental Clinic, Dr. Fabre mentioned that ASA’s hope was that the Clinic would eventually have a space to call its own and hire a paid dentist. Looking at it now, with its eight dental chairs, operating suite, many meeting rooms, and large reception area, it can be easy to forget all the hard work it took to get the Clinic started. The Clinic began as a labor of love for Dr. Fabre and the many volunteers who have dedicated their time there over the years. Today, the Clinic remains a place staffed with extremely dedicated people. From humble beginnings to a bright future, the Jack Sansing Dental Clinic stands strong.
We invite you to learn more about the JSDC on Friday, October 9th at our open house. Our ribbon cutting is at 11:00 am and the open house will last until 1:30 pm. To learn more, visit our event page.
AIDS Services of Austin’s prevention team demonstrated a strong commitment in supporting the Austin Pride event last month, by providing a variety of prevention services to attendees, including contraceptives, testing, counseling, and general information.
Velda Clinton, Prevention Specialist at ASA commented after the event, “It was a wonderful year. People were much more engaged than in years past, and more active in picking-up the free supplies of condoms and lube being offered.” ASA distributed both male and female condom kits and dental dams. Organizers estimated that they distributed between 2,400 and 3,600 condom packets.
To counter the battle with Austin’s high summer heat index, ASA deployed cool water misting stations at the prevention booth site, which helped to attract Pride participants to the booth and provided an easier opportunity for ASA volunteers to engage with them.
Good interaction with the crowd was a common theme, as staff and volunteers met with an estimated 1,200 to 1,400 patrons. Organizers were encouraged by the outpouring of appreciation from the attendees. Velda also recalls, “Each person was amazingly grateful for ASA providing the service, and for doing it there at the Pride event specifically.” Thanks were expressed by those who took advantage of the testing service, as well as those who simply took advantage of the opportunity for dialogue about updates in the progress to fight the HIV epidemic today. Patrons also described ASA’s gesture as having felt more comfortable and less clinical than other environments. Some of the testing participants stated that they felt more comfortable discussing their fears and receiving advice in this less formal setting.
On-site HIV testing has been offered at Pride by the ASA Prevention staff for many years now. During this year’s event a total of 47 tests were administered. Testing was offered not only for HIV, but also for syphilis screening. Individuals taking advantage of the testing represented not only a broad section of the LGBTQ community, but also heterosexual attendees.
Jonathan Chavez (Testing and Linkage to Care Coordinator at ASA) expressed his personal thanks to all the event staff including the 15 additional volunteers from the community who all helped to make the event another Pride success!
“Whatever you do, don’t make me boring” – Freddie Mercury
Tomorrow night marks AIDS Services of Austin’s 3rd annual Freddie for a Day event! This event is meant to serve as a night to commemorate the life of the lead vocalist for the band Queen, Freddie Mercury. Mercury is known for being many things: a singer, entertainer, generous spirit, and for having contracted and eventually dying of complications from AIDS.
Freddie Mercury never liked to discuss his diagnosis – he hardly even discussed it with his long time partner, Jim Hutton. Despite never discussing his status, there had been rumors for years about his illness leading up to his death. Although he never shared the details of his health with his band mates, they were aware that he was ill. Because of this, they stopped touring and slowed down on time spent in the studio. During Mercury’s final public appearance in February 1990, his band mate Brian May, had to accept an award because Mercury was too ill to do so. After that, he spent all of his time at home coping with his illness. Mercury publicly announced having AIDS on November 22, 1991—and a little more than 24 hours later, he passed away.
Mercury hated to discuss his illness because of what people would think and the stigma that come with this status. And over 20 years later, this stigma is still around. Many people still think being diagnosed with HIV is a death sentence and do not know how to discuss it. Knowing that this disease is most often transmitted through sex or drug use creates a perception that being positive means you have no morals—which is false. This stigmatization not only impacts people living with HIV, but people who don’t have HIV as well. People may avoid getting tested, avoid taking medications, or avoid asking their partner to use protection.However, like turning your car radio up louder when you hear a funny engine noise, ignoring a problem will not make it go away. If you are at risk for contracting HIV, not getting tested and not knowing your status will not solve anything. That’s why one of ASA’s primary goals is to fight stigma and indifference, which allow HIV to spread and prevent people from seeking care. We also support people to learn how disclose their status and live open lives, free from judgment.
By joining us at Freddie for a Day, you can help us further the cause by making people aware of their risk, providing free HIV tests, and supporting services locally and internationally for people affected by HIV and AIDS. Not only does the event support AIDS Services of Austin, which works with individuals affected by HIV in Central Texas through many different programs and services, but it also supports The Mercury Phoenix Trust.
In 1992, The Mercury Phoenix Trust was established to commemorate the memory of Freddie Mercury and help use his notoriety and generous spirit to raise money to fund projects battling HIV and AIDS worldwide. Over the past 21 years, MPT has raised over $15 million to finance over 700 projects in 57 countries! Their main event, Freddie for a Day, is just another way to celebrate Mercury with a bit more flair and fun by dressing up as our favorite Queen front man. Freddie for a Day is celebrated on Mercury’s birthday, September 5—but MPT encourages anyone who wants to celebrate to do so on any day of the year. The many ways that FFAD has been spent around the globe includes musical performances, ‘Mercury’ margaritas, flash mobs, and marathons in his honor.
ASA will be celebrating Freddie for a Day in our own way tomorrow night! We will be at The Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co. from 9:00-11:30 pm in an open and spacious setting with delicious food and cold beer listening to the tunes of the Queen cover band, Magnifico. There will be a Freddie lookalike contest, giveaways, and mustaches to go around! The suggested donation of $10 goes towards supporting the fight against HIV and AIDS through AIDS Services of Austin and The Mercury Phoenix Trust.
The relationship between healthy eating and a healthy life is often overlooked by people living with HIV. Between concerns about getting case management, health care, and medicine, nutrition gets placed on the back burner. In addition, the cost of buying healthy food can be hard to justify when you are scraping by to afford health insurance, prescriptions, rent, and utilities.
That’s where ASA’s Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) Program comes in. About one-third of our food bank clients use the MNT program to establish realistic goals for their nutritional health. Our registered dietitian (RD) Christine Marquette works with more than 80 clients yearly.
“Some clients are homeless and therefore very food insecure which has caused many health problems,” Christine explains. “So our program is helping to meet their basic needs. Others may just have had a setback and need some help getting their nutritional health back on track.”
Before clients can access MNT services, they must complete a nutritional risk screen (which looks at their medical history, current medical needs, and current eating habits), and they must have received an AIDS diagnosis or be showing symptoms. Christine helps clients with issues ranging from weight-loss or weight-gain to managing other medical needs such as diabetes.
“Once the client is scheduled for an initial MNT appointment,” Christine describes, “We go through a detailed assessment including a measurements of body fat, hydration, and muscle mass; questions about the client’s medical history, medications, recent lab work, social history; and understanding their access to food, what they eat, and how often they eat.”
After this initial 90 minute assessment, Christine determines if the client needs supplemental nutrition, and if so, what type is most appropriate. The client can then pick up these supplements with every food bank visit, which includes a weigh-in to monitor their nutritional status. In order to continue receiving supplements, MNT clients must attend follow-up appointments.
“Our goal has been to have a show rate of more than 75%,” Christine explains. “Historically we have been in the 70 – 80% range, but for three months this year, we have achieved a show rate (or “retention in care”) of over 90%!” In addition, Christine has recently seen two elderly clients (in their 70s) graduate from the MNT program.
Interacting with clients is Christine’s favorite part of working in the MNT program at ASA. “They are all such unique individuals and many have overcome so many challenges & obstacles, both in life in general and in their health, it really makes me appreciate my own life circumstances and health. My goal with each client is to do the best assessment I can to help them set their own realistic goals regarding their nutritional health. I am very happy when clients graduate from the program and feel a sense of accomplishment that they can handle their nutritional needs without me.”
Christine recently had a client re-enroll in the MNT program after being released from prison. In addition to a history of drug and substance abuse, this particular client had a history of missing appointments. Unfortunately, due to the high demand among clients, the program has a strict three strikes rule: Three missed appointments means being unable to continue receiving MNT services at ASA.
“When the client re-enrolled, his weight was at 88% of his ideal body weight,” Christine recalls. “He kept his initial appointment and started coming to food bank every two weeks for his supplements and to get his weight check. He managed to stay sober for 5 straight months and got his weight up to 90% of his ideal body weight! Although he did have a small relapse with drugs and alcohol, causing him to miss one food bank week, he made his follow-up MNT appointment and has gotten back on track with sobriety. He has also joined a gym and is doing yoga and swimming twice a week, in addition to following a healthy eating plan.”
Since our registered dietician is only available part-time for the MNT program, we also strive to provide nutritional education classes once a quarter, which are open to all ASA clients. “Topics we have covered in the past include what to eat if you have high blood pressure, portion sizes/how to serve a healthy plate, as well as cooking demos with various foods (grains, proteins, etc.).”
Learn more about these demos in our blog post: CAFB Class Builds Cooking Skills