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Volunteer Spotlight: Michael Kinney

Volunteer Spotlight: Michael Kinney

It’s almost a cliché, but nonetheless a powerful lesson, that volunteers often feel that they have received as much as, or more than, they have given. Michael Kinney, who has served as a volunteer peer group facilitator for more than 16 years, says that group facilitation has taught him the value of “really paying attention, the power and the importance of simply bearing witness, of listening with your heart and your head.”

Kinney, who owns WordWright, a San Francisco-based copywriting and editing business serving the wine industry, began his volunteer career delivering goodwill and nutritious meals through Project Open Hand and then spent 10 years providing support and information over the San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s AIDS Hotline. When, in 2001, Kinney realized he wanted to help HIV-positive people more directly, he began facilitating AHP’s group for newly diagnosed gay men.

HIV is personal for Kinney. He was diagnosed in 1984 before the HIV test was approved. Kinney turned to his friends for support, many of whom were facing similar symptoms, uncertainty, and fear. That experience—the power of support—informed his decision to join AHP. He says, “The amount of support available to [AHP] volunteers is tremendous,” and he adds “has been consistently excellent.”

On top of that, Kinney discovered kinship and expertise among group members. “Blown away” by their qualifications, Kinney says that he’s “always learning something new,” both practical and profound. For example, Kinney says, on the one hand, he learned how to use the state’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) to compensate for the coverage gap, aka the “donut hole,” written into the federal Medicare Part D drug benefit. On the other hand, “I’ve seen profiles in bravery, humility, humor, and generosity that I can only hope to follow.” For example, one member with multiple illnesses and disabilities “still showed up every week, made light of his situation, offered support to his fellows.” Kinney sums it up: “They are all amazing, wonderful guys.”

Kinney is only one of AHP’s longtime volunteers, about which we can repeat: “They are all amazing, wonderful people.” Kinney ensures that our clients have a safe place to go to talk, listen, and connect to others at a time in their lives when the stakes are really high. And he continues to do it week after week, year after year. “It’s really rewarding work,” Kinney says. “It feels good to know that you’re able to do something.” His group members and AHP colleagues would attest: Michael Kinney is really doing something!