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AIDS collaborative honored

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Charlotte nonprofit works with faith-based teams to serve people with HIV/AIDS.

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. [03.31.04] — More than a decade ago, the Rev. Deborah Warren saw a big gap in services for people with HIV/AIDS.

Today, she runs a Charlotte charity she founded that matches volunteer teams from religious congregations with people with the disease and their families.

And earlier this month, she and her staff at the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network, or RAIN, traveled to the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C., to receive one of seven 2004 Common Ground Awards recognizing achievements by nonprofits worldwide in conflict resolution, community building, and peacemaking.

“Religious leaders and lay people alike have been challenged to reexamine their theology of love and care for all persons in the face of a disease that carries a lot of uncomfortable baggage,” she says.

The genesis of Carolina RAIN began in 1992, when Warren, then receiving clinical pastoral training at Carolinas Medical Center, learned a 27-year-old member of a South Carolina congregation she had served as associate minister had AIDS. He died two weeks later.

At about the same time Warren learned about the spread of the disease from a mentor, Henry Finch, a pastor who directed a Charlotte substance-abuse clinic, and died two years later of AIDS.

Yet while believing the faith community “needed to bring support and healing and compassion and education,” she says, she “couldn’t see where any faith communities were doing anything” about AIDS.

Then she learned about an initiative in four southern states that teamed faith-based volunteers with people with HIV/AIDS.

After visiting a project site in Little Rock, Ark., Warren spearheaded creation of RAIN, initially with two seven-member volunteer “care teams” from Myers Park Presbyterian Church and Myers Park Baptist Church, her own congregation.

The network, with eight staffers and 80 volunteer care teams, including 29 from African-American congregations, has trained more than 2,500 volunteers from 20 denominations and religions.

It has delivered more than 101,000 volunteer hours of care to 525 families, and provided more than 600 HIV prevention-education programs to more than 46,000 people.

With an annual budget of $580,000, the group last year received $42,000 from individuals, and this year has grants of $50,000 from the Duke Endowment and $46,000 from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, and aims to net $100,000 each from its two annual fundraising events.

The group has begun the spring round of its fourth-annual Gay Bingo, with another round this fall, and will hold its seventh-annual AIDS Walk on May 8.

The Rev. Monsignor Mauricio W. West, diocesan administrator of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte and treasurer of the network’s board, is recruiting business leaders to help the network develop a long-range financial plan.

“It has taken a while for RAIN to make connections to people whose roots go deep into these various communities,” says Warren. “But we’re meeting more and more people who have influence and connections.”

HIV/AIDS is a “deeply spiritual issue” tied to “who is included and who is excluded,” she says. “Faith communities can be a tremendous source of healing to persons who feel judged and rejected.”

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