After the abrupt 2009 closure of Metrolina AIDS Project, Charlotte’s AIDS service providers and those living with HIV/AIDS were left in a precarious state of limbo. The region’s largest organization serving the needs of those living with the virus and reaching out to perform education and prevention suddenly disappeared. Who would take up the services they’d once offered?
Over the past half-year, area organizations have stepped up and absorbed many of MAP’s programs. The Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN) is now offering the case management MAP provided and the old Regional HIV/AIDS Consortium — freshly reborn as Carolinas CARE Partnership — is carrying on much of the education and awareness-building work.
In February, federal funding for one of MAP’s most influential programs, the D-UP! campaign, was transfered to Carolinas CARE, which changed its name and branding last month. The program is a unique effort to reach out to young men of color ages 13-24 who have sex with men, using peer counseling and training to spur regular condom use and testing.
“Our hope is that the risk reduction messages get out there and the basics are covered: condom use appropriately and regularly, knowing your status and knowing your partner’s status,” Carolinas CARE Program Director Shannon Warren said.
Under Carolinas CARE, the D-UP! program continues to grow.
“We’ve hired a Latino project coordinator to start doing sessions in Spanish or bilingual sessions when necessary,” Warren said. “We’re working on focus groups with members of the Latino target population to see how we can adapt this program to work for that community.”
Warren and Carolinas CARE Executive Director Terry Ellington said the D-UP! team are extremely committed to the job.
“It’s amazing — they have had such a rough ride over the past year,” Warren said, “but the day we got the award letter they came in to the office and hit the ground running. They are extremely passionate and you can see it in their work. To see that passion has pushed all of us to define our own passions to make sure we are here for the right reasons.”
Carolinas CARE, founded in 1990 by the Foundation for the Carolinas and United Way, was initially formed to administer Ryan White funds and provide other types of prevention, treatment and housing support services. In the two decades since its founding, the group continues to fulfill its mission through various programming. At one time, Ellington said, the group operated an Americorps program in partnership with the National AIDS Fund.
“Currently our focus remains with the Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS programs working with certain housing services like Crisis Assistance Ministries, Hope Haven, House of Mercy,” Ellington said.
The group, working in Mecklenburg County and several outlying areas, also reaches out to women in rural towns and cities through its Something to Talk About program.
“It is a group-level intervention for women of color,” Warren said. “We do a lot of HIV prevention, gender pride, self-esteem, making healthy choices, educating family and friends about HIV.”
Unfortunately, it’s a program that might likely end soon, if new funding isn’t obtained by the end of August. “We are applying for funding all over the place to replace it because it really works to outreach for women,” Warren said.
Finally, the Partnership also operates testing for substance abuse and non-traditional site-based HIV testing, including at area colleges, the Lesbian & Gay Community Center and, at one time, the Charlotte Eagle.
“It’s about going to where the people are, where there is high risk and where it is accessible to people who want to get tested,” Warren said. “It’s also an excellent vehicle to collaborate with other organizations who want to offer testing.”
Carolinas CARE also offers testing at its offices each Friday afternoon, 4-7 p.m.
The organization, which receives about $2 million in funding and employs 12, has, like other non-profits, been hit by the recession. Ellington said the group has been lucky to continue receiving federal grants, although some state grant funds have been reduced. Private donations, which help cover administrative costs, have been hit the hardest.
“We were to hold our third annual Home Run, a 5k run event, but we are postponing it until the spring,” he said. “Over the last year it has been a tough go because we weren’t able to raise the funds.”
Carolinas CARE Partnership offers several opportunities for volunteering. Ellington encourages those with the time to sign up via their website.
Coming soon, Ellington and Warren said, is a new program they hope will reach out to those who are newly diagnosed.
“We already have a training institute for providers and we are planning to expand that into some educational opportunities for people who are newly diagnosed with HIV or have been diagnosed for a while but never got a comprehensive education about their infections,” Warren said. : :
more: Get more information about Carolinas CARE Partnership at their website: carolinascare.org.