Reasons for hope, optimism in fight against HIV/AIDS

We are excited to announce that 2005 marks the beginning of a new era in the history and strategic direction of our local community's response to HIV/AIDS in Gwinnett, Rockdale and Newton counties.

AIDGwinnett has relocated to a beautiful new service facility where clients from these three counties benefit from HIV testing, clinical services and support programs all under one roof. This new location allows AIDGwinnett to be more productive and efficient in terms of capacity, quality of care, strength and sustainability.

2005 has been an exciting time of dramatic change. Optimism abounds with a renewed sense of dedication among all of our supporters. At the same time, however, despite moving to a new location, AIDGwinnett really has not changed in terms of two critical elements: our commitment to compassionate service and the central importance of our clients, our volunteers and the community we serve.

Thanks to the generosity of caring volunteers, donors and supporters, since 1991

AIDGwinnett has served thousands of individual clients living with HIV as well as loved ones affected by the epidemic.

For people living with HIV, the outlook today is positive and hopeful. This is, of course, in stark contrast with the tragic earlier years of the epidemic when an HIV diagnosis was often perceived to equate impending death and doom.

Now, patients living with HIV have the opportunity to live a life of productivity and happiness thanks to effective new treatments for HIV which have significantly improved overall patient health. Current treatments allow many patients to maintain gainful employment and stay out of the emergency room.

Despite several advances, however, we still have much to do. A cure for AIDS is years away and the impact of HIV remains disproportionately high among people of color.

In Georgia, for example, AIDS is the No. 1 leading cause of death among blacks ages 20 to 44. Approximately 84 percent of Georgia women living with HIV are black. Also, our state has the ninth-highest number of pediatric AIDS cases in the United States, and young adults in Georgia ages 20 to 29 account for 19 percent of all AIDS cases. What's more, most of these young adults likely became infected during their teenage years, given the fact that HIV often takes five to 10 years before the onset of AIDS.

The global impact of HIV/AIDS also continues to spread with increasing force beyond Georgia and the United States. In Africa, for example, the destruction is such that in some areas one out of three adults may be living with HIV and vast communities of orphaned children abound.

As a community, we are blessed with the necessary resources and infrastructure required to effectively respond to this epidemic. At the same time, however, we also have a responsibility to lead by example by serving those who are less fortunate than we are. As we prepare to begin a new year, we are thankful to the thousands of local area businesses, doctors, hospitals, friends and clients who make our work possible. We are particularly grateful to the many special volunteers who support the vital work of HIV testing, prevention, compassionate treatment and support.

"Kelly" (name changed) is one of those special volunteers. He began his relationship with AIDGwinnett in 2003 fulfilling court-ordered community service. Since then, Kelly has blossomed into one of our most dependable meal delivery team members. Recently, he came to our office with great news. "I'm recruiting volunteers from my church," he said. Our staff was delighted and touched.

"I just figure, helping is what life is all about, and I like helping other people," Kelly said. "It makes me feel worthwhile and special."

AIDGwinnett is a nonprofit organization founded in 1991. Although AIDGwinnett does receive some federal grant funding, the organization is not a government agency. The programs and services provided are made possible through the generous support of caring staff, individuals, volunteers and local community support. You can join Kelly and dozens of other caring volunteers by either lending a hand or making a donation. For more information, visit our Web site at www.AIDGwinnett.org or call 770-962-8396.

"People Helping People" is a weekly column written by the executive directors of nonprofit organizations in Gwinnett County. Today's article was written by Larry Lehman of AIDGwinnett.

Need help or know someone who does? The Gwinnett Helpline directs callers to the appropriate nonprofit agency. Call 770-995-3339.