What Inspires AHP Staff?
AHP has inscribed thousands of stories on the lives of clients, supporters, community members, and providers over the past 30 years. We asked AHP staff members to mark our 30th anniversary by recounting the stories of who and what inspires them to work in HIV and LGBTQ mental health—and to do this work at AHP. Here is a sample of their stories.
Perry Rhodes, III, HIV Counseling and Testing Program Manager
Whenever we talk about why we do this work, I think about Latina MacIntyre. Latina was this wonderful drag queen who loved to do Gladys Knight, and she was really fun. Unfortunately, Latina was HIV-positive, and she got really sick and died. It was so hard to see her body in a man’s suit at her funeral. Her family and the pastor of the church did not even acknowledge this critical part of her identity or that HIV took her life.
That is when I really got pissed off at HIV. That’s when it went beyond me using a condom for myself or just talking to my friends about it. I thought, “I’m mad about this sucker, and I’m about to start fighting back at you.” I always come back to Latina MacIntyre, because for me, she was what made this fiercely personal, and it will always be very personal for me. Latina’s made me wake up to how many glorious people are gone because of HIV.
Mario Sandoval, PhD, Clinical Social Worker
I started doing HIV work in Santa Clara County in the early 1990s, working with monolingual Spanish speakers who were diagnosed with AIDS. Most of my job consisted of being called to hospitals or homes and holding someone’s hand or hugging somebody or talking to somebody who had been ostracized by their community and family. I don’t have a single name—but I remember each of them well. Today, I appreciate how wonderful it is that I get to spend 50-minute sessions speaking Spanish with clients who are HIV-positive, whose names I know, and who will likely meet other folks in the community. My clients are greeted in their native language at the door of AHP, and it means so much to me that I get to continue this work with people I know and care about.
Claudia Figallo, MPH, Substance Abuse Counselor
When I was getting my creative arts degree in London, I had an internship in an HIV clinic, and it was a disaster, a complete failure. I led groups for folks with HIV, and I remember my fieldwork supervisor just talked about death. So all of sessions had to do with end, closure, and death. AIDS was equal to the grim reaper coming for you with a scythe and no one wanted to come to a group and talk about that, so no one came.Once I was hired at AHP I thought, “I shouldn’t run a Creative Arts group here, it will be a disaster!” However, fast forward fifteen years, and here I am, running a successful Creative Arts group for people with HIV. I’m happy to be part of an agency that really allows me to bring myself to the work and to have the freedom in my work to create programs that serve the community effectively. I’m also really happy that HIV doesn’t equal death in the way that it did once upon a time.
Jen Shockey, MPH, Trainer / Curriculum Writer
When I first began to work with people with HIV I was hired as the Outreach Coordinator for Women in Monterey County. My first two women clients living with HIV will forever stay with me; their names were Jackie and Julia. They both passed in the early 1990s right before combination therapy was introduced. I sometimes wonder, if they had known earlier, or been diagnosed sooner, might they still be alive? I will never forget them because they were a lot of fun, determined, and both had a lot to deal with and did it with such grace. Jackie was a butch dyke and an injection drug user and she was really gritty and told it like it was. Julia was an Asian American straight woman – being API, living with HIV, having a husband, she had such stigma to cope with, and stayed positive until the end. They both live in my heart forever.