VOL. 111 | NO. 94 | Friday, May 23, 1997
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
Life is for Living
Friends for Life AIDS Resource Center puts emphasis
on quality of life for persons living with HIV and AIDS
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
The Daily News
Shortly after his 40th birthday, Butch Valentine was diagnosed as having full blown AIDS. Valentine said he believes that was the beginning of his life.
"They say life begins at 40. Well, mine certainly did. I found out I had AIDS when I was 40," said Valentine. "My life changed when I stared volunteering here at Friends for Life, because I saw so many people who had it worse than I did," he said.
Friends For Life AIDS Resource Center, FFL, located at 1450 Poplar Ave., provides a variety of services for the HIV/AIDS community in Memphis.
For Valentine, a full-time volunteer at the center, working with FFL clients has made all the difference.
Started by volunteers in 1985, with 42 reported cases of AIDS in the Memphis area, FFL now has 11 full-time employees and has served nearly 5,000 clients with HIV/AIDS, executive director, Thomas Roden said. He said FFL has a threefold mission of education, advocacy and service.
"One of the things we want to do is make sure no one else gets infected," Roden said.
Valentine said immediately after he found out he had the disease, he went through stages of being withdrawn and shy.
"I had to come out of my HIV closet very slowly," he said. "My family was very supportive."
He said that people who are open about having the disease live longer because those who conceal it are under so much stress, and stress inhibits the immune system.
"Youve got to learn how to live stress free with this disease," Valentine said.
Hardly an easy task considering that many people with HIV or AIDS find it hard to hold down a job and may be under constant pressure about finances and other daily considerations.
One of Valentines roles at FFL is volunteer fund raiser for the Home and Hearth program which provides emergency housing and utility assistance to persons living with AIDS.
Another of the volunteer work Valentine said he treasures at FFL is as unofficial counselor to others who have just discovered that they have the disease.
The center runs a food pantry which is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., on a pick-up basis. Roden said FFL does occasionally make deliveries, in cases of emergency.
The center recently began a home-delivered meal program, for home-bound individuals, Roden said.
FFL also staffs an AIDS hotline (278-2437) to answer questions and help people who want to know anything about AIDS, or where to get tested for the disease.
Roden said people who believe they have been exposed to the virus should get tested immediately, but a negative test result does not mean they are in the clear. A follow-up test six months later is necessary. Testing is free.
"We dont want people to think they have to pay for testing," Roden said, explaining that the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department and Lifeblood both offer free AIDS testing.
Roden said the center also distributes safe sex kits, containing condoms and information on the transmission of AIDS.
Jo NeSmith, 66, who began volunteering at FFL in the winter, said she surprised her son one evening with a phone call.
"Guess what I did today," she said. "I put together safe sex kits," she told him, sharing that was something she never pictured herself doing.
"This is one of those deals where you do anything you can to help somebody," she said.
NeSmith is one of 356 volunteers who help out at the center in one capacity or another day in and day out.
Roden said FFL takes the safe sex kits Roden and others make and distributes them to at-risk youth who are homeless or in detention, black men, gay men, and women of childbearing age. He said 20 percent of FFLís clients are women.
Of FFLs $500,000 annual budget, Roden said $375,000 comes from grants from the federal and city governments, and from the Center for Disease Control. The remainder is met through fundraising.
The center is increasing its budget to $750,000 for next year, Roden said, and most of the difference will come from fund-raising events. The increase in the budget, Roden said, is attributable to the longer life expectancy of persons with AIDS.
"Now, people are living longer, but their needs are greater," Roden said.
FFLs next fund-raising event is the Three Basses Concert which will be held on June 8 at 7 p.m. at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.
Roden said many groups hold fund-raisers throughout the year to help FFL. Sometimes the first time FFL hears of such a benefit is when a check appears.
"We are so grateful for any help we get," Roden said.
Valentine considers one of his primary responsibilities at FFL lining up entertainment for the free congregate meals the center hosts bimonthly at St. Johns United Methodist Church at the corner of Peabody and Bellevue.
Past entertainment has included the Roxy Gunter Singers, Joyce Cobb, and the Pyramid Winds from the Germantown Symphony Orchestra. Entertainment for the dinner June 2 is the Cadillac Cowgirl.
The dinners are open to people living with AIDS, their friends, partners and caregivers, but Valentine said everyone is welcome.
Valentine wanted to tell people not to expect to see a bunch of sick people, because these dinners are a celebration of life.
"I try to keep it light and upbeat. Its something people really look forward to," Valentine said.