The University Record, October 16, 1995

United Way support critical part of HARC'sfunding

By Jared Blank

"Many people still see HIV as a punitive disease---they'll say, `it was your own fault, you should deal with it yourself.' We are trying to educate people about the realities of this disease," says Lawrence E. La Ferte, administrator at the HIV/AIDS Resource Center (HARC) in Ypsilanti.

While HARC faces many barriers trying to fulfill its mission of providing HIV-related services through direct care, prevention and outreach activities, La Ferte says one of the most difficult is fighting the social issues that have become intertwined with the epidemic.

"Not only do we try to take on this horrible disease, we have to take on many of society's ills. We have to confront homophobia, racism, substance abuse, apathy. We are constantly trying to break down stereotypes," La Ferte says.

United Way designated dollars have provided funds for the many programs run by the center. Last year, more than $7,000 was donated through United Way by U-M faculty and staff---nearly one-third of HARC's United Way donations.

One of the center's primary services is to provide direct care for those living with HIV. Case managers work with clients to link them with entitlement programs, health care, financial assistance and other support services. Often, they work directly with insurance companies and doctors to ensure that clients are receiving proper care and treatment. "These are the people who make things happen with a client who is having a crisis," La Ferte says. "They call hospitals to make sure people are admitted. They try to cut through the red tape involved with insurance companies. They know how to work through the bureaucracies."

HARC's volunteers act as "buddies" for clients, often staying with them in hospitals and helping family members cope with the disease. Even if it only means visiting one afternoon each week, it allows caregivers to have time for themselves.

The center also runs programs that focus on education, awareness and outreach. HARC volunteers spoke to over 3,000 people last year at schools, churches, the art fairs and other public functions. "We are helping people to develop safer behaviors," notes La Ferte. "Many teenagers receive mixed messages about HIV and safe sex from parents and friends. We try to educate people as young as possible, so they are comfortable talking about sex when they are ready---that's why it's so important to get out and talk to teenagers in the schools.

"In addition to educating about safe behaviors," La Ferte says, "we are trying to educate people about stereotypes associated with the disease. There is still a stigma associated with it, that it is a `gay' disease. This is simply not true. For example, the hemophiliac community has been devastated by it."

HARC itself has done some soul searching about the stigmas associated with HIV, according to La Ferte. In 1986-93, the center was known as the Wellness Network-Huron Valley. "We had to open up and take the stigma off HIV and AIDS. Why should we expect anyone else to change, when our organization couldn't include the words in its name?" La Ferte asks.

The University's United Way campaign runs through October. Campaign chair Maureen Hartford announced a $1 million-plus goal this year, and a theme that asks donors to "give $1 more per week." Funds received in the first two weeks of the campaign total $324,979.

Anyone with questions about the campaign can send e-mail to uwquestions@umich.edu.

Volunteer organizes HARC fundraiser

"My address book is an amazing collection of crossed out people," says Amanda Mengden, facilities manager at University Productions. She volunteers at HARC helping organize fundraisers, including a dinner and silent auction slated for March 1996, at the Gandy Dancer.

After years of working in theatre, Mengden has lost a tremendous number of friends to the disease---the industry has been hit hard by HIV. She believes that members of the theatre community are especially touched by the disease because of the nature of the art.

"Actors bring their personal lives to their professional lives in a way that other professions don't," she says. "In a play, actors are sharing a collective vision---when they act they live this vision. They have to bring so much of themselves to the role, they live the art."

This mingling of personal and professional lives has brought the reality of the epidemic into her everyday life. "There is a process of sharing in the decline of your friends who have the disease," she notes. Because HIV takes so long to wear you down, you live with death---it becomes another stage of what living is about.

"In the arts, you work with people in rehearsals and they're sick. They perform sick. I've learned to hold on to today a bit harder than I used to. There's the prospect of losing tomorrow."

Mengden feels that it is important to put a face on the disease because discrimination has not gone away. She tells of sharing ice cream with a friend who has HIV---a seemingly unremarkable act. Her friend stopped eating and told her that she was the first person who had been willing to share food with him since he was diagnosed. He felt a physical isolation from other people," she says. "People are still scared they can contract the disease from touching somebody else. This isolates those who have to live with it."