It dished out more than 31,000 meals, handed out more than 41 tons of food from its Food Shelf, and distributed more than 600 baskets for its annual Holiday Basket Program. That’s all in a year’s work for The Aliveness Project, a community center for people living with HIV/AIDS in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest.
The Aliveness Project got under way when people living with HIV/AIDS founded it in 1985. Since that time, it has added an array of services, and seen its membership numbers grow exponentially.
Tim Marburger, Director of Fund-raising and Special Events, says, “It’s kind of the one-stop shop for a person living with HIV/AIDS. We serve everyone from children up to folks in their 80s—male, female, gay, straight, black, white, African-born, Hispanic—just the whole gambit. We pretty much mirror what the epidemic is here in Minnesota.”
That disease was reflected in the Minnesota Department of Health’s 2007 report showing 325 new cases of HIV/AIDS in the state, a number that hasn’t been seen since the mid-1990s.
“This is a place where newly diagnosed people can come, and meet other people living with the disease,” according to Joe Larson, The Aliveness Project’s Executive Director since 2001. “Even though it’s been more than two decades since we first started dealing with this disease, a lot of people when they test positive still have this sense sometimes that it’s a death sentence, or they don’t know who to turn to, or they’re afraid of telling people they know about their diagnosis.”
That’s where The Aliveness Project thrives.
As Marburger notes, “A lot of people maybe aren’t out about their status, so it’s a place where I often see the weight come off their shoulders when they walk into the building, because here they can talk about their health, here they can talk about their medications and not fear losing a job or losing family, so it’s a safe place. People talk about just being able to come in and be themselves completely, and not have to hide the secret. It’s a godsend.”
Apart from the community-driven atmosphere, The Aliveness Project offers the aforementioned programs, such as the Food Shelf and Holiday Baskets, in addition to providing case managers; a prevention program; complimentary therapies like acupuncture and massage to help with medication side effects; and other various services.
“They [members] know sometimes that money is tight, because they are on a fixed income, and they are trying to decide whether they should pay rent or get their meds, and we’re able to help with some of those things,” Marburger points out.
Larson relates that more than 1,400 people living with HIV/AIDS used the organization’s services last year—almost twice as many as when he joined the center some six years ago.
“We’ve been growing,” Larson explains. “There are more people living with HIV here in Minnesota and in the United States than ever before, and that’s been the blessing of the treatments we have. People are living longer, but there are also more people in need of services. So, we are serving so many more people each year, and it just has continued to grow every year I’ve been here.”
As a result, Larson reports, The Aliveness Project has started looking at ways to make additional space for its current members and the 240 new members who joined last year, including building on a new site. Until a potential one has been chosen, however, the organization will continue its much-valued work at its current location in South Minneapolis.
“I’ve had people say, ‘I don’t know where I’d be without The Aliveness Project,’” Larson shares. “You really help them find positive ways to live with HIV.”
The Aliveness Project
730 E. 38th St., Mpls.