What to do to mark World AIDS Day

What to do to mark World AIDS Day

In 1991, 26-year-old New York City native Valerie Reyes-Jimenez and her family were in crisis. She and her husband were both HIV-positive and homeless, bouncing around from place to place with their two young children.

Through her mother, Reyes-Jimenez learned of a new organization called Housing Works, which helped her obtain an apartment, navigate benefits and receive medical care. The help arrived not a moment too soon, as Reyes-Jimenez’s husband died of AIDS-related complications the next year, leaving her a widow and single mother.

Connecting with Housing Works placed Reyes-Jimenez on a road towards healing and hope in some of the darkest days of the AIDS crisis.

Thanks to the development of lifesaving medication, AIDS is not the death sentence it used to be. Yet thousands of New Yorkers and millions across the world still struggle with the disease and its dire effects.

Today is World AIDS Day, marked every Dec. 1 to bring attention to the ongoing dangers of this virus that claimed the lives of 630,000 people last year. International efforts to combat HIV/AIDS has brought the death toll down sharply from a high of 2 million in 2004, but UNAIDS reports that 39 million people around the globe are living with HIV, the virus that has led to more than 40 million deaths since the beginning of the AIDS pandemic.

UNAIDS, which plans and promotes the annual World AIDS Day, is focusing on community organizations with its 2023 theme, “Let Communities Lead.” In New York City, two organizations have for decades helped lead the community battle against AIDS: Housing Works and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Founded in 1990, Housing Works calls itself a “healing community” and proclaims its mission of ending the “dual crises of homelessness and AIDS” through advocacy, providing lifesaving services and operating businesses that sustain its operations.

Housing Works has helped provide primary care for more than 18,000 individuals and housing assistance for 750 families throughout New York, while also offering programs such as vocational training, substance use treatment and mental health support. Proceeds for its programs are generated through 13 thrift stores and other establishments, such as a bookstore on Crosby St. in Manhattan.

“We have led the charge year after year since 1990 to add more resources to the budget and new initiatives that benefit those who live with AIDS/HIV and others in New York City,” says Housing Works CEO Charles King.

Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS were two entities that merged in 1992 to become one of America’s leading fundraising and grants-awarding organizations for AIDS-related services. Through affiliates, the organization helps people locally and nationally by providing “lifesaving medications, health care, nutritious meals, counseling and emergency financial assistance,” according to its website.

The group helps fund organizations that work directly with AIDS patients, such as The Dancers’ Resource and The HIV/AIDS Initiative, while also supporting more than 450 AIDS-related organizations throughout the country, supplying more than $300 million since its inception.

A large portion of funding for Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS comes from an initiative called the Bucket Brigade, which asks theatergoers to donate funds in red buckets passed around at the end of Broadway performances. The organization also raises money through an online store and special productions, performances, concerts and events that feature the talents of the Broadway community.

New Yorkers should use World AIDS Day as a reminder that the AIDS crisis is not over. Then go one step farther and look for ways to support community organizations battling this virus and aiding the people who suffer from it.

Support Housing Works by volunteering, donating items, and shopping at its stores. Don’t let a red bucket pass you by at the end of a Broadway show, seek out performances that support Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS or pick up some items from its online store. Of course, both organizations accept donations.

Those donations can offer a lifeline to people like Valerie Reyes-Jimenez, who now works as a community organizer for Housing Works, the organization that helped turn her life around. Jimenez is remarried, her adult children are thriving, and she is now a grandmother.

“When I was young, my only goal in life was to be a good mom and a wife. And then I developed AIDS and began to prepare my children to live without me. When I got to Housing Works, I was a hot mess,” Jimenez says. “I never expected to be alive now. But the people I encountered gave me direction and stabilization, and throughout the years I was able to develop the skills I needed to help others.”

Ray Stanton is author of “Out of the Shadow of 9/11: An Inspiring Tale of Escape and Transformation.”


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