Almost a decade ago, a friend of mine told me that World AIDS Day was coming up. I had never heard of it before. He had been a touring musician in the ’80s and spent time working to raise awareness about this “new” deadly disease. That phone call from Tennessee prompted me to head downtown and find out what was going on in San Luis Obispo.
I came to the door of the AIDS Support Network (ASN) and sat down with Edie Kahn, executive director of this local group of do-gooders. I was absolutely captivated by the level of care that I saw being administered from this old building on Nipomo Street. Those in need were being navigated, step-by-step, through the labyrinth of medical paperwork. Some folks were being taken to their doctors’ appointments, food was given out, testing was taking place, housing was being organized. Beyond all of that, people in a terrifying moment were being comforted and given hope.
I wanted a piece of the action.
I began volunteering some time, organizing food drives and home repairs for locals who needed assistance. I began to discover individuals I never knew before, locals who became my friends, each with an amazing story. HIV and AIDS began taking on faces, not just statistics. Hundreds of faces.
After a few years I was asked to be a part of the board of directors, and again my mind was blown. I found out that a nonprofit organization trying to help out in the complex and expensive realm of medical needs is not a simple ship to steer. Funding for the services comes from grants, government assistance, and individuals who care about their neighbors. But over the last few years, grants and government money has been harder and harder to come by. Even as the ASN expanded its skill base to help those with Hepatitis C, some of the financial doors were closing.
Daunting? Strangely enough, no. The staff at ASN simply looks for new ways to reach out to the community and get the work done. Now, lest this sound overly aggrandizing, let me tell you this: I sit in the first half of almost every board meeting in a state of confusion while David Kilburn, coordinator of finance and grant development, talks. I nod at the myriad acronyms representing one grant or funding stream. I have no idea what he’s saying. I do know it’s what keeps services in SLO County going, though.
Since 1984, San Luis Obispo can be proud to say that it has reached out to meet the needs of those in our community who have often been marginalized or overlooked. I am proud to be a part of the AIDS Support Network and SLO Hep C Project.
However, we can’t do it alone. Service to people in our community who need help was never supposed to be performed by an elite group of saints and hippies. Service to the community must be enacted by the community. That’s how we change and grow together. That’s the essence of what community should be.
On Sat., Nov. 2, friends of the AIDS Support Network and SLO Hep C project will be meeting at Santa Rosa Park at 9 a.m. We are going to take a walk through town together. We’re going to remind our community that even though many of the folks with the purse strings forget that there are still needs, there are still needs. Come and walk with us. Share a lunch afterward. Get to know those people in your county who would love nothing more than to see you care for the people who they have come to love.
If you would like more information on the walk, or would like to give a donation, go to ASN.org.
Aaron Porter lives in San Luis Obispo, is on the board of directors for the AIDS Support Network, and is a pastor at Vintage Community in Templeton. Send comments to the executive editor at email@example.com.