International AIDS Empowerment provides services for families
in El Paso, Texas and across the border in Juarez, Mexico
By Andy Smith
International AIDS Empowerment sounds like an enormous organization with a suite of offices, so it’s surprising to learn it’s actually a mid-sized AIDS service provider with 12 part-time employees squeezed into a small office.
However, dig a little deeper and it becomes apparent how this El Paso, TX-based ASO got its name.
International AIDS Empowerment provides food, emergency grants, multiple support groups, educational outreach (among other services) to PWAs not only in El Paso, but across the Mexican border in Juarez as well. Founded in 1997, the organization was originally a project of the El Paso offices of the Pan American Health Organization, part of the World Health Organization.
Broadway Cares has funded this multi-service provider for the past several years and, in 2006, gave the group a $5,000 grant to fund We Care! – its emergency financial program, an essential service in one of America’s poorest regions. “Each year, this program helps between 250 and 300 people pay their rent, utility bills and other essential expenses. About a third of these grantees have families,” says Executive Director Skip Rosenthal, who adds, “We really do want to thank Broadway Cares for its continued support. Without these funds, we wouldn’t be able to maintain an emergency financial assistance program.”
Often perceived as a sleepy border town, during the past decade Juarez has seen its population swell to over two million residents, many of whom moved from Southern Mexico in pursuit of NAFTA-based factory jobs. International AIDS Empowerment’s borderless services include a referral program which enables Mexicans who’ve immigrated to the U.S. to return home and still keep medical coverage and another that collects medical supplies, food and clothing from all over the U.S. to give to ASOs in Mexico.
“One year, a hospital in Santa Fe gave us an X-ray machine,” Rosenthal remembers. “We were lucky to get it across the border without any trouble.”
In El Paso, about 200 PWAs access the organization’s on-site food pantry each week; in Juarez, International AIDS Empowerment provides food for congregate meals in a local hospice.
Women Fighting Isolation
The face of AIDS is changing, and IAE’s client base reflects this shift. “Women make up a quarter of our clients here,” Rosenthal says. “And they definitely need the reinforcement of a support group because they often feel that they are the only people in their communities with HIV.” With more than 125 members, the support group “Positively Sisters” gives women the space to cope with this sense of isolation in addition to the health and financial concerns associated with an AIDS diagnosis.
He adds: “The vast majority of our women clients were infected by their husbands or ‘monogamous’ boyfriends. This statistic really points out the fallacy of the current line of prevention message that’s out there.”
Getting the Message Out
It’s a constant struggle, but International AIDS Empowerment takes no state or federal funding, a financial headache but a boon for the organization’s education and speakers bureau, which provides speakers for adults, teens and high-risk populations at community centers, junior high and high schools throughout the El Paso Area.
“Since inception, this program has reached more than 30,000 students,” Rosenthal says, adding that without federal funding to consider, speakers can be a lot more direct and specific when discussing ways to prevent the spread of HIV.
Moving on Up
Currently, International AIDS Empowerment is housed in a cramped, 520 square foot office on the outskirts of town. However, later this fall its staff will relocate to a much larger space (2,500 sq. ft.) in central El Paso.
“We’ll be much easier to reach by bus,” Rosenthal says. “We’ll probably gain at least 100 new clients by moving.”