“There are still 1.2 million people living with AIDS nationwide and approximately 20,000 in the 12-county area around Dallas. A stunning 90 to 95 percent of that number resides in Dallas County. The need is as great as ever.”
Raeline Nobles has a simple message to share: AIDS is not yesterday’s news. The executive director of Oak Cliff-based AIDS Arms laments that “compassion fatigue” has led to decreased awareness of the still-ravaging AIDS epidemic. Over the roughly 26 years since the public became aware of AIDS, attention to the disease has waxed and waned, but victims and their loved ones continue to suffer and require services regardless of whether anyone is paying attention. AIDS Arms exists to meet the many needs of those living with HIV/AIDS, and the needs of their families, and has been serving the metroplex since 1986. Nobles has been with AIDS Arms for 10 years, five of those as executive director. She reminds us that there are still 1.2 million people living with AIDS nationwide and approximately 20,000 in the 12-county area around Dallas. A stunning 90 to 95 percent of that number resides in Dallas County. The need is as great as ever.
AIDS Arms is headquartered here in Oak Cliff for a reason that may surprise some: this, according to Ms. Nobles, is where the disease is. She explains that the agency was initially headquartered in Oak Lawn (where a satellite office still exists), but shifting demographics led to a shift in location. Through four offices the agency provides professional case management to 3,000 unique clients each year. The greatest need AIDS Arms has as an agency will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the nonprofit world: AIDS Arms needs money, particularly unrestricted funding. The majority of their funding comes from AIDS-related state and federal grants, and government grants — essential as they are — often come with cumbersome strings attached. Cash donations from individuals are always welcome and are tremendously helpful in allowing AIDS Arms to do its vital work (see box for details).
What exactly is the vital work of AIDS Arms? The agency brings people and services together. Their clients — people living with HIV/AIDS — come to them, and they connect the clients with a vast array of necessary services, from meals in the home to quality medical care to counseling. Throughout its more than 20 years of existence, AIDS Arms has cultivated relationships and created a network of 90 agencies willing to accept referrals and assist their clients. An individual living with HIV/AIDS may not be aware of the resources available in the community, but as a client of AIDS Arms, he or she will have an opportunity to discover them and build essential connections. Those who wish to receive services through AIDS Arms need only call the agency to set up an assessment. During the intake process an assessment is made of the client’s needs and expectations for the future. Every person living with HIV/AIDS is different, so there is no one “plan” for clients. Once a client’s individual needs and expectations are understood, case managers can work with the agency’s network to meet those specific needs. While money is a constant need for AIDS Arms, and financial donations are always welcome, someone interested in helping but short on money to donate can contribute time and effort as a volunteer.
With the holidays approaching volunteers are in particular demand. The agency conducts a holiday gift drive each year and volunteers are needed to sort the gifts. In addition to collecting toys for children and gifts for teenagers, the agency provides gift baskets for single clients who have no family with whom to celebrate the holidays. Many of AIDS Arms’ clients are isolated adults and at holidays, in particular, case managers are reminded of the loneliness that can surround HIV/AIDS. Raeline Nobles calls AIDS “an intelligent disease.” It seems to always find a way to perpetuate itself. As one segment of the community becomes more aware of its risks and sees the number of infected members decline, the demographic shifts and a different community — who previously may have believed AIDS only happened to other people — is stricken. The disease knows no boundaries — not age, race, gender, or sexual orientation. AIDS Arms is doing what it can to help, but cannot take care of everybody. That’s why Ms. Nobles urges us all to remember that AIDS has not vanished. If we’re able to do nothing else, she urges us to remain aware and spread that awareness — because “every time we turn our back, someone is getting infected.”