Inside the community center that serves as a lifeline for many.
December is HIV/AIDS Awareness Month, but at The Aliveness Project, they bring light to HIV all year long.
The Minneapolis-based nonprofit provides rapid testing and health education at their office and in the community. For those living with HIV, they provide the necessary support and advocacy so those individuals can live a healthy and self-directed life.
“I credit this place with saving my life and changing its trajectory,” said Alex Palacios, Member Services Manager with The Aliveness Project. “As a member who has also been a volunteer, a Board member and now staff, The Aliveness Project has also been a place to chart a career and further my leadership skills.”
The people they serve are called members, and currently, The Aliveness Project has approximately 1,900 members living throughout Minnesota. Nearly 100 have joined so far in 2020.
At no cost, members have access to medical nutritional therapy, acupuncture, massage, a food shelf, meal program, and more.
In the first 10 months of 2020, The Aliveness Project handed out 143,259 pounds of food to its membership. In the kitchen, staff and volunteers prepare hot, made-from-scratch meals, served six days a week. Nearly 23,000 meals have been served so far this year.
For those newly diagnosed with HIV, The Aliveness Project can help members find an HIV doctor, case manager, and provide other referrals. They also help members overcome barriers, like lack of insurance. For many, the news can be difficult and confusing. This nonprofit is here to serve.
‘The foundation of my community’
Joe Stansbury became a member of The Aliveness Project in 2019. Like Palacios, Stansbury is on the nonprofit’s staff.
“The Aliveness Project is the foundation of my community,” Stansbury told Lavender. “I go there and I know names, and people know my name. I belong.”
Stansbury was first introduced to The Aliveness Project in October 2019, while at Eden Prairie-based Pride Institute (you can read a Serve Our Society feature on Pride Institute at lavendermagazine.com). That’s where Brad Bryan from The Aliveness Project hosted a group catered to people living with HIV.
“What Brad brought to the table were conversations about HIV that helped me work through my shame as an HIV-positive person,” Stansbury said. “I remember Brad mentioning volunteer opportunities at The Aliveness Project. I was inspired to give back in some sort of way. I started volunteering and one day I decided to apply for a job opening. Now, I am a proud member of The Aliveness Project outreach team where I get to contribute and serve our community.”
Stansbury gained more than employment thanks to The Aliveness Project. He found love, with his now fiance introducing himself to Stansbury during the dinner service The Aliveness Project provides its members.
A December to remember
To commemorate World AIDS Day on December 1, The Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus premiered a digital showcase highlighting the work of The Aliveness Project. And that’s just the beginning of a full month.
The organization hosts an annual Holiday Gift Program, which will be semi-virtual in 2020 due to COVID-19. Members receive a hat, gloves, cookies, and stockings. Plus, toys are provided to children. Events are held throughout the week.
Although COVID-19 has forced staff to adapt, it did not make them break. “The incredible work of staff and volunteers have allowed us to adapt quickly and efficiently to the ever-changing needs brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Palacios said. “Currently, we are providing our members with curbside food pick-up and delivery and case management and nutrition services via telehealth.”
The organization is in need of volunteers, along with donations of Christmas stockings and stocking stuffers, plus gingerbread house kits and holiday themed food. Monetary donations are also welcome at www.aliveness.org.
You can also support The Aliveness Project during its annual Dining Out For Life event, typically held in April.
Above all, Palacios stresses the importance of knowing your HIV status. The Aliveness Project offers free testing, with hours posted online. “Get tested, and educate yourself and others on the importance of sexual health maintenance,” they said. “Help us eliminate stigma!”
Mike Marcotte is a nonprofit events planner and posts on his website, www.givemethemike.com. To nominate an organization to be featured in Lavender’s Serve Our Society series, email [email protected].