A local, nonprofit support group is inviting Tucsonans to learn about how to help the local HIV/AIDS community.
The Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network, Arizona’s largest privately-funded provider of support services for people living with HIV/AIDS, is holding an orientation for prospective volunteers Saturday.
“We have about 450 volunteers, but it’s still not enough,” said Scott Blades, TIHAN’s co-founder and executive director.
TIHAN has a variety of volunteer opportunities, basically something for everybody, Blades said.
“There are clerical positions, cooking meals, answering phones, doing data entry,” he said. “We provide rides to doctors appointments, give emotional and social support and help with fundraising, set up educational tables at community events.”
There is no set time commitment for volunteers, who can give what they are willing to spend. TIHAN has volunteers who help out once a year and those who are active on a daily basis, Blades said.
“The orientation is a good overview of our organization, as well as what HIV looks like today and how to prevent it,” Blades said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1.1 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in the United States.
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, infects and weakens the immune system, eventually leading to AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Because of the damaged immune system, the body is susceptible to a variety of infections that people with healthy immune systems don’t experience. A person has progressed from HIV to AIDS once they acquire one of these opportunistic infections or a specific type of immune cell drops below a certain level.
A 2009 study by the Arizona Department of Health Services determined there were 2,200 people living with HIV or AIDS in Pima County, with about 120 new cases diagnosed annually.
It’s likely that there are many more people in Pima County who have been infected with HIV, since as many as one in six Americans don’t know they’re infected, state health officials say.
There are more than 50,000 new HIV and 30,000 new AIDS diagnoses in the U.S. every year, according to the CDC.
TIHAN provides support services to more than 500 Tucson residents living with HIV or AIDS, including a “Living Well with HIV” curriculum, nutritional support, social and emotional support, and more.
The Poz Café lunch program, started by TIHAN in 1999, is the largest regular meeting spot in Southern Arizona for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Held once a month at different congregations throughout Tucson, the gathering regularly draws in between 120 and 200 people.
“We serve lunch, have bingo and raffles,” Blades said. “We also provide education about HIV/AIDS, and the attendees will hear from a person living with the disease.”
George Stoddard, who is semi-retired and works at a group home for mentally impaired adults, has been with TIHAN for about eight months.
“I have friends who have died of AIDS, friends who have HIV,” Stoddard said. “It seemed like a good way to get involved and help out, and it’s worked out well.”
Stoddard is a volunteer receptionist for TIHAN, and helps with the monthly Poz Café lunches.
The event will address questions about the disease and give volunteers new ideas about how to help.
Subjects covered will include HIV/AIDS 101, living with HIV/AIDS, interfaith responses to HIV/AIDS, and an introduction to TIHAN programs.
“It’s also a way of meeting great people you otherwise wouldn’t meet,” Blades said. “And it will open your eyes to things within your community.”