Volunteer Spotlight: Caroline Dunlap

Caroline Dunlap, 2014

Caroline Dunlap, 2014

When Caroline Dunlap said “volunteering at AHP is the highlight of my week,” that was no small statement of support. After a full week of committed work as the conservation program coordinator for the Student Conservation Association in Oakland, Caroline spends her Saturdays at AHP. She begins her day providing HIV counseling and testing at the AHP Services Center on Market Street and then goes to AHP’s HIV testing van in the Castro during the afternoon.

Caroline, who has a degree in environmental conservation, comes to AHP with a long history of fighting the good fight. Whether she’s working at a ranch in Arkansas or for the fish and wildlife service in West Virginia, this volunteer likes a challenge.

Still, she said, “I read the stories on AHP’s blog, and I’m not sure I have a very interesting story,” Caroline told us on a recent Saturday in between shifts. You be the judge:

Caroline’s journey began when she was a child in a suburb of Boston. Raised by two Bronx natives who worked their way up from the working class, Caroline learned that her social status was a privilege she should not take for granted. In response, she began volunteering even before she entered high school, spending most of her young life trying to make the world a better, healthier, and safer place. The harder the struggle, Caroline said, the more useful she has felt. But after several years in rural, and largely homophobic areas of the country, Caroline decided that struggle was only one dimension of living. When she moved to Oakland to join a friend who was attending Mills College, she realized that had found what many who come to the Bay Area find: herself and her tribe.

For Caroline, community service connects her to the places she lives through their people. The Bay Area is “not just a place to reside and buy groceries,” she said. HIV counseling and testing at AHP has certainly delivered those connections. Contrary to her expectations that she would be focusing on epidemiology or public health, Caroline explained, HIV test counseling is “about talking to people and listening to people and giving them a chance to be heard . . . what we do is allow people a safe place to reflect and be a witness to that reflection.”

When asked why she chose AHP, Caroline did not hesitate, “AHP was vanguard in addressing the needs of the community at the start of the epidemic, and has continued that legacy for over 30 years.” That history matters to Caroline: “A lot of people who come in for an HIV test have health care (insurance coverage), but choose to test at AHP. I think that speaks volumes about the quality of the services they receive.”

Regarding the people at AHP, Caroline is a devotee of the team she volunteers with. “I love the folks I work with and everyone I have met at AHP; they have all been so warm, welcoming and capable.” We love you too, Caroline, thank you for all you do.