Volunteer Spotlight: Judy Ahrens

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Judy Ahrens, Vice Chair of AHP’s Community Advisory Board

Judy Ahrens has seen it all. Currently the vice-chair of AHP’s Community Advisory Board (CAB), Judy is a long-standing volunteer at AHP. From the first time she came to Art for AIDS Judy knew she wanted to be involved with AHP. She had suffered a lot of losses from AIDS and found a place that felt like a good fit for her. And she keeps coming back.

“I love the sense of community at AHP!” Judy exclaimed. “My favorite part of volunteering at AHP is the annual fundraiser, Art for AIDS. I love that everyone knows each other.” After all these years, Judy, who, along with AHP Executive Director James Dilley, greets all of the guests who come to Art for AIDS, does seem to know most of the guests. Judy first began volunteering at AHP by working on the Art for AIDS Planning Committee and helped grow the event into what it is today.

When Judy moved to San Francisco from New York in the 1960s, she was astonished and excited by all that San Francisco had to offer. “Everyone was so free,” she recollected. “It was safer and more fun than New York. People were free to have sex and talk about politics.” Yet a dark period was about to hit San Francisco and it happened as she became friends with a lot of gay men while working in the restaurant business. When the AIDS epidemic hit, many of her friends and co-workers began to get sick and die. Judy knew she had to do something.

First, she began volunteering at Project Open Hand. That reminded her of the importance of volunteer work, and she broadened her efforts to honor her dedication to women and volunteered at the Marin Abused Women’s Services and the Women’s Community Clinic. Yet, Judy still felt she wasn’t doing enough! After attending Art for AIDS, she found a place where she could most directly impact those affected by HIV and AIDS.

Judy attended her very first Art for AIDS with one of her friends in 2000. “I remember thinking, ‘This is nice, but it could be so much more,” Judy recalls. “The very next week, I met with Jim and before I knew it I was on the Art for AIDS organizing committee.” Since then she has also served on the Art for AIDS Jury and become a key player for fundraising events at AHP.

At the same time, Judy is also a critical member of AHP’s CAB. In 2012, she was a member of the committee charged with changing the agency mission and finding a new name: the AIDS Health Project became the Alliance Health Project. Judy believes that AHP needs to evolve and change to stay relevant and is happy to see AHP expand its mission to reach out to the entire LGBTQ community. In the future, she hopes to help AHP expand its funding to continue to extend its services, especially to women.

Fifteen years is a long time to work as a volunteer, especially at an organizing level, which requires time and energy, resourcefulness, and insight. Judy says it’s “the quality of the people who work for AHP” that accounts for her long commitment. “Everyone is nice, interesting and informative. It’s refreshing to get a chance to talk with people who do something different and who are invested in what they do. The staff and volunteers at AHP really care about the populations that they work with and they are smart and accessible. That’s why I’ve stayed with AHP for so long.”

Lori Thoemmes, AHP Director, responded, “That quality thing works both ways: Judy is an amazing collaborator who gives so much in terms of wisdom, humor, and dedication. She inspires us to continue thinking about our role in the community and the best ways to serve our clients. We are so lucky she chose us! Here’s to another couple decades of partnership!”