AIDS group adapts to change

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — In 1996, Evening with Friends netted nearly $208,000 for the AIDS Service Agency of North Carolina and was one of the most popular and successful charitable fundraising events in the Triangle.

But proceeds from the event have declined nearly every year since as public awareness about the growing AIDS epidemic has waned.

The annual series of informal get-togethers, which was launched in 1995 and has generated a total $1.5 million, netted roughly $85,000 in 2004, the last year it was held.

“To some degree, I think it’s because HIV is less personal to people,” says Jacquelyn Clymore, executive director of the Alliance of AIDS Services – Carolina, the group that now sponsors the event. “It is felt to be less of an emergency that it was.”

Yet since 2001, she says, 1,700 new cases of HIV have been diagnosed every year on average in North Carolina, where 18,900 people are living with HIV/AIDS.

That “sounds like a crisis to me,” she says.

To cope with the growing demand for services, the Raleigh-based Alliance is working to secure more private and public funding, both through its own fundraising and by teaming up with other AIDS groups to push state and federal lawmakers to change public policies that affect AIDS funding and other public-health programs.

In the wake of four years of lobbying by AIDS groups, for example, state lawmakers in their just-ended session approved a change in the law to make more people eligible to receive free HIV medicine from the state.

Under the old law, anyone earning more than 125 percent of the federal poverty level, or annual income of more than $11,800, was not eligible, a rule that barred many working people with no health insurance from getting free HIV medicine.

The new rule increases that cutoff level to 250 percent of the national poverty level, or annual income of roughly $22,000.

On the heels of that legislative success, Clymore says, the Alliance will continue to focus on three other issues.

The North Carolina AIDS Action Network, for example, will continue to push for more state funding for AIDS prevention programs after failing to persuade lawmaker to approve a $3 million increase in that funding, now $14 million.

The Network also will continue to push for a state law designed to limit the spread of AIDS and hepatitis by letting drug addicts exchange used syringes for clean ones, a move that would limit the spread of disease among addicts who share needles, and among their sexual partners, says Clymore, a member of the Network’s steering committee.

And in Congress, AIDS groups will continue to push for changing the funding formula in the federal Ryan White Care Act, the main source of funds for AIDS/HIV medical and supportive services.

The law ties funding to the number of AIDS cases in a particular geographic area, a formula set in 1991 when the law was enacted and AIDS was concentrated in urban areas.

But the disease has become more dispersed, and now is mainly in rural areas, particularly in the South, with North Carolina getting a disproportionately low share of Ryan White funds, Clymore says.

“The money should follow the epidemic,” she says.

While AIDS agencies sometimes finds themselves “drowning with the need to do services,” Clymore says, “if we don’t address the policy issues that go hand in hand with caring for people, then we’re only fighting half the battle.”

The Alliance of AIDS Services – Carolina was formed in 1999 through the consolidation of the Raleigh-based AIDS Service Agency of North Carolina, the Durham-based Triangle AIDS Interfaith Network, and the Carrboro-based AIDS Service Agency of Orange County.

When the Wake group, the oldest of the three, was formed in 1990, it served a total of five people through Husted House, its residential facility in West Raleigh, and had a staff of four people and an annual budget of $180,000.

Today, the Alliance serves over 1,000 clients a year throughout the Triangle, reaches another 15,000 to 20,000 people with its programs and services, and operates with 38 employees, 600 active volunteers and an annual budget of $2 million.

Private grants, fundraising events and government funding each account for roughly one-third of the organization’s annual budget.

One of the agency’s major fundraising events, Works of Heart, which raised over $76,000 last year and aims to raise at least $75,000 this year, will be held Oct. 20-21 at the Progress Energy Center in downtown Raleigh and include a reception and art auction.

And Evening with Friends, which aims to raise $56,000 this year, wraps up Sept. 14 with a gala at the North Carolina Museum of Art that will feature a performance by AIDS activists Gloria Loring and Sheryl Lee Ralph.

“So often people thik that the AIDs crisis has abated or even gone away,” Clymore says, “But it has not. AIDS is still with us and people are still dying.”

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