By Andy Smith
Over the past few years, AIDS Network in rural Martinsburg, West Virginia has turned a few small grants from BC/EFA into winter coats, business attire for job interviews and holiday train tickets for people with AIDS and their families, mastering the art of making a little go a long way.
“With our first Broadway Cares grant we used $4,500 to purchase winter outerwear for 58 clients; this included 58 parkas, 64 hats, 14 scarves, 62 pairs of gloves, 61 pairs of overshoes, 61 packages of heavy socks (three pair in each package), and 59 heavy sweaters,” says Executive Director Dr. Judith Friend, ticking off her frugal shopping list. “We chose items in a variety of colors and styles, because we did not want the clients to look like they all belonged to some club.” The agency’s next grant was used to purchase business attire for 59 clients, including 46 men’s suits (25 percent of its clients are women).
Late in 2006, the agency launched “Operation Reconnect for the Holidays,” providing train tickets, gas coupons or phone cards to help 34 clients visit or at least speak with distant family members.
Even small grants make a big difference, Friend says, especially as ongoing federal and private funding reductions force her to cut peripheral services like acupuncture and massage therapy. “For now, 75 percent of our funding will go to core services, including basic medical services, prescription drugs, mental health and substance abuse treatment programs,” says Friend, who supervises four employees and about 30 active volunteers.
An Unusual Client Base
In 2006, most of AIDS Network’s new clients were long-term residents of the area. However, in the past a majority were short-term transplants, referred from the area’s Veterans Administration Medical Center, located about two miles from the agency’s main office. “These clients receive their medical care at the VAMC and come to us for assistance with the other necessities of life,” says Dr. Friend.
VA referral clients – many of whom have substance abuse and/or mental health concerns – often choose to stay near Martinsburg after they’re discharged because the agency’s services are easier to access, the cost of living is lower and “many have burnt their bridges at other places and/or do not have a family/support system in place at another location,” she explains.
A few years back, Friend accompanied a client to a Junior High presentation that has since turned into an ongoing relationship. “The kids were so excited, they made us a quilt with squares featuring the initials of all the clients we had lost (49),” she says. “In Spring of 2006, a local Ninth Grade biology class presented us with a full-size quilt featuring 150 squares (pictured above).”
This quilt came without initials and Friend added that over the past year the number of clients lost has held steady at 49. To see the student quilts and learn more about AIDS Network, visit http://www.antsa.org