By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For three in 10 people who visit HIV/AIDS clinics in North Carolina, their disease already has progressed to AIDS.
“One of the key things we must be doing in our state is getting people into care earlier,” says the Rev. Deborah Warren, president and CEO of the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network, or RAIN.
Formed in 1992 by Myers Park Presbyterian Church and Myers Park Baptist Church, each of which trained a handful of volunteer teams to serve people in their homes who were dying of AIDS, RAIN now provides a broad range of care and education and awareness programs to prevent the spread of the disease.
In its first 15 years, RAIN staff and volunteers trained over 3,000 volunteers and provided nearly 150,000 hours of services to 700 individuals living with HIV/AIDS and their families.
The organization has grown as the disease has spread: Currently, 3,353 people are living with HIV and AIDS in Mecklenburg County, more than in any other county in North Carolina.
RAIN has developed programs and partnerships in over 100 religious congregations that represent roughly 20 denominations and faith traditions, Warren says.
Operating with an annual budget of over $625,000 and a staff of 10 employees, RAIN provides care teams and chaplains who work with people with HIV and AIDS, and their families, in their homes, hospital rooms or other facilities.
Increasingly, RAIN also is working with HIV-positive people to help them develop as leaders and advocates.
In 2008, for example, the organization will train HIV-positive people to serve as peer counselors for other HIV-positive people, helping them manage their disease, reduce their stress and stay in care, Warren says.
RAIN also trains HIV-positive people to help educate state lawmakers about increasing spending on programs to prevent HIV and AIDS.
Now, the organization plans to marshal HIV-positive leaders to help find people in the community who believe they may have been exposed to HIV and help them get tested and find programs for support and medical care.
RAIN also is working with congregations to open their facilities for counseling and testing by its partner agencies.
RAIN generates 40 percent of its revenue through special events, 35 percent through grants, and 25 percent through gifts from individuals and congregations.
An annual AIDS walk, held the first Saturday in May, this year netted roughly $200,000, for example, and a RAIN Society formed several years ago has recruited 25 members who agree to contribute $100 a month or $1,200 a year.
Based on a formula tied to the number of individuals in the region with HIV and AIDS, RAIN this year also received $12,000 in federal funds through the Mecklenburg County health department.
And RAIN and Florence Crittenton Services each will receive $60,000 from a benefit concert Feb. 14 at Spirit Square.
“Faith communities are extraordinary allies in the fight against AIDS,” Warren says. “RAIN’s role is to equip them to be the best they can be for the people living with HIV/AIDS right in our own backyard.”