HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – Thirty-two years since the outbreak of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, more than 650,000 people across the nation have fallen victim to the disease. The deaths cross lines of gender, age, race and sexual orientation. Countless others are still alive – both the survivors of the 1980s’ AIDS Crisis and the thousands who become infected with HIV each year.
Amidst all this, organizations across the country and the Carolinas have stepped up to the challenge in assisting those affected and infected by HIV/AIDS.
Different Roads Home was founded on Jan. 7 in Huntersville by Dale J. Pierce who has served as practice manager and Ryan White Care Act program director for Rosedale Infectious Diseases in Huntersville for several years.
Dale said he had dreamed of helping people ever since he was a boy. Different Roads Home was inspired by Janet Paschal’s book, “The Good Road.” In it Paschal wrote: “We all take Different Roads Home. Each of us is heading for the same destination, but face our own variety of twists and turns and narrow places, as well as a few stretches that are all downhill. You and I encounter differing relationships, experiences and challenges, only to realize that somewhere along the way we arrive at the same impasse. It is a summons that will change our past, present, and future.”
A breast cancer survivor herself, Paschal’s message rang loudly to Pierce. He knew that he wanted to do something important and meaningful to help others during challenging times.
“No matter what you are battling, you can get support from Different Roads Home,” Pierce said.
Several HIV/AIDS organizations exist in the area, but Pierce felt there was a need for a different type of resource agency providing support and mentorship. Pierce’s organization also assists doctors in dealing with a shortfall in medical home support and wading through the changes and challenges of healthcare, especially with the Affordable Care Act’s arrival. No one is certain on how healthcare reform will really pan out and Different Roads Home wants to be there to make the transition a little easier for its clients.
Pierce said Different Roads Home differs itself from other local organizations, many of which receive federal or state funding. Pierce’s group doesn’t have the same restraints others might have when deciding programming or outreach services. In the future, he also hopes to provide similar services to people affected by other chronic diseases like cancer.
Different Roads Home is also the first organization of its kind in the North Mecklenburg area. Before, clients had to travel into Charlotte to receive services. Now they can receive a plethora of them through a comprehensive menu ranging from support groups, The Good Road Home Mentoring Project, Jeannie White Ginder Food Pantry, testing initiatives and resources and referrals.
The group is currently hosting four support groups meeting at various places across the area. They all begin at 6:30 p.m. The Women’s Positive Group is open to women who are HIV positive. These meetings are held on the first Wednesday of each month at 5501 Executive Center Dr., Suite 109, in Charlotte. Likewise, its Men’s counterpart meets on the third Wednesday at the same location. The co-ed Inclusive Positive Group meets on the second Wednesday, while the Friends and Family Group is held on the fourth Wednesday. Both are located at the Different Roads Home offices. Visit Different Roads Home’s website at differentroadshome.org for exact dates.
One additional highlight of the organization’s first year is its mentoring project. Through this initiative, experienced clients are paired off with those who have been newly diagnosed. Teams are matched based upon similarities, thus making it more amenable for both parties. Having a partner that can relate to and provide for the emotional support that is sorely needed makes for a more successful endeavor.
The food pantry was housed at Rosedale, but it seemed like a better fit for Different Roads Home, so it moved there when the offices opened early this year.
A complete list of resources is also available online, spanning medical care, testing, case management, housing, hospice, financial and food assistance and substance abuse facilities.
Pierce shared that one of the biggest challenge he faces is funding. Across the country contributions are down from where they were 10 years ago. So, he is relying on volunteers to drive Different Roads Home to help keep costs down. Currently, Different Roads Home is not supported by grants, but they obtained their 501(c)(3) in March. They expect to do grant writing to help subsidize their programs and they are working on obtaining corporate and private contributions. Rosedale was its first corporate sponsor and provided the capital investment for the startup. Blue Sun Photography has also contributed its services in the in-kind category.
On June 22, Different Roads Home celebrated its half-year anniversary at a fundraiser at Petra’s Piano Bar. And, on Nov. 23, the organization will sponsor the Annual Evening of Hope and Inspiration gospel concert that helps to bring awareness to the organization, its service and community involvement, as well as serving as a fundraiser for the food pantry.
Although Different Roads Home does not have appointments, Pierce suggests that potential clients call ahead to secure a suitable time for both parties. The office is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Pierce added that the group’s formation could not have been possible without the love and support of his partner of seven years, Edward Harrell. Harrell understood what Pierce’s aspirations were and was there to help him make it happen.
The organization has already established an assembly of staff members, as well as a full board. Pierce is its CEO. Kareen Strong serves as the director of programming and Will Ward heads up administration and marketing.
The board is comprised of Pierce, president; Lesa Kastanas, vice president; Harrell, Visa, treasurer; Roseanne Sanders, Rosedale, secretary; Charlotte DeLavalle, AbbVie; Natasha Fetterson, N2 Potential; Robert Higgins, Fulcrum Capital Partners; and Kenneth Lin, Oak Realty. Pierce wanted to make sure that the board was diversified and not filled with “yes people.” He also felt that the board should be able to deal with constructive criticism while developing ideas for good programming. : :