17: It Takes a Village

17: It Takes a Village

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

It Takes a Village

Don’t give up. There are too many naysayers out there who will try to discourage you. Don’t listen to them. The only one who can make you give up is yourself.

~Sidney Sheldon

When the world was really first introduced to HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s it was called “Gay Flu.” I was working as the Media Specialist at a local four-year college where there were many gay professors and students. I knew I couldn’t ignore the sexual activity, gay or straight, on campus, so I called Trojan’s parent company and convinced them to donate a 3-pack of condoms for every student at the school (discretely kept in my office). That was just the beginning. I decided to bring AIDS education programs to campus as a volunteer. I made enemies of some of the faculty and administration because they refused to acknowledge the need for such programs, but I also made many friends and raised the kind of awareness that could save lives.

Fast forward to 1987. I left my job at the college to join the staff of Centennial Comprehensive Health Care Center (CCHCC). As the clinic social worker, I started coordinating a healthcare program for the homeless and working poor. Soon after I started I won a grant to work with HIV patients, both gay and straight.

CCHCC was a 501(c)(3), a private, non-profit center. No patient was ever turned away. However, the funds to pay decent physicians were not readily available. The clinic was failing financially, and it was difficult to have to watch such a vital resource for an entire county disappear. To sacrifice the quality of care because of cost was unacceptable to me. Bad health care is worse than none. CCHCC was on the verge of having to close its doors forever.

Working at the clinic was as much about my family as it was about me. My family stepped up to create some wonderful fundraising events and served as my personal volunteer team. We decided to hold a charity golf tournament, and my husband and father became an expert tournament-organizing duo. Even my kids helped!

The magnitude of an event like this should have been beyond what two volunteers could do, but it was a huge success. Participants all got three meals, gift bags, raffle prizes and games on the course, so everyone went home smiling.

My husband worked for Roche Pharma and got them to send AIDS educators to speak at champagne breakfasts before the tournaments. The breakfast educated many participants, who asked great questions and came away with less fear and some great information they could share with others. By year two we had a corporate sponsor and raised over $10,000. Not only that, but we educated a hundred more golfers. I was so proud of my family and the clinic staff, who all volunteered to make this successful. By year three there were more golfers trying to sign up than we could accommodate.

At the same time we created the Funny You Should Bid Auction, named by my husband to dovetail on Comic Relief. When I wasn’t doing my real job, which by year two was Executive Director of CCHCC, I was on the phone with celebrities, television writers and movie producers. Comedy Cabaret’s Andy Scarpati not only volunteered his venue, but the Friday night before the auction he donated the proceeds from the cover charge to the clinic. Movie stars, national radio personalities, athletes, sports teams and TV show cast members sent amazing autographed items. Local businesses were beyond generous. This became a labor of love for all the donors and volunteers, not to mention the comedian auctioneers who donated their time and talent.

When I inherited CCHCC, we couldn’t even pass our audit. Thanks to the efforts of my family and staff, plus all of our dedicated volunteers, we were able to not only start an HIV clinical research study for the patients, but also buy updated medical equipment and add a training program for fourth-year medical students, many of whom returned after their three-month rotations as volunteers! We had finally turned our clinic into a place where people could receive the best quality of care, even when they were in the direst of financial straits. We also treated inmates at the local prison, which not only used CCHCC services but let my husband and me bring in a Passover Seder. This is what we did as volunteers together. This is the example we wanted to set for our son and daughter.

My volunteers continued to work with me, as well as all of our new donors. Thanks to my husband’s hard work, my patients always had what they needed; we never ran out of supplies. I was able to attend meetings dealing with all manner of diseases, and the pharmaceutical representatives let me take their display products and ship them back to the clinic. Doors were open to my patients by specialists who would take them pro bono. Even the building, which had had its mortgage in arrears for years, was donated to us by the builder. We paid our bills, expanded our hours and services, and delivered surplus food from local markets to shut-in patients.

Unfortunately, eventually I was diagnosed with Lupus — in a way, the opposite of HIV, causing an overactive, not under-active, immune system. I came out of remission after eight years and was forced to retire early. I was bedridden and heartbroken. I found other ways to give back, but the 24/7 days were a thing of the past.

Volunteering is not a solo activity in my world. For me, it took a family, a staff, a community, and dedicated friends and strangers, who all shared my vision and passion for quality health care. I went from being a lone AIDs educator and activist in jeopardy of losing my job for being outspoken, to being a social worker at a bankrupt clinic actually working with sick patients, to being the executive director of a successful community health care center. The success of CCHCC did not belong to me. It really did take a village.

~Judy L. Davidson

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