Riding For AIDS Awareness

Local Nonprofit Helps Valley Residents Battling Disease

Posted: September 7, 2013

The third annual Tour and Taste will be held Sept. 15, with races departing from CrossKeys Vineyard in Mount Crawford at 8, 9 and 10 a.m. The event, which benefits the Valley AIDS Network, is described as a “fun fundraiser” by organizer Alexandra de Havilland. (Photo by Courtesy Photo)
For some, it may come as a surprise to know that HIV disease exists in the Shenandoah Valley, but the staff of the Valley AIDS Network is hoping to change that.

Founded in 1989, VAN was created after local residents realized the lack of support for those with positive HIV diagnoses, as well as the need to educate the public about the disease.

Alexandra de Havilland, executive director of VAN, explained that there’s often a stigma associated with the disease, especially regarding which populations it affects.

However misguided these beliefs may be, de Havilland said VAN strives to spread awareness that HIV is an equal opportunity disease: Anyone can be infected. But there’s an organization here to help.

“We want people to know who we are and what we do, and subsequently that there are people living with HIV [and] AIDS in the Valley,” Alexandra de Havilland, said.

The network provides services to income-eligible individuals who have received positive HIV diagnoses. The organization also supports eligible individuals battling AIDS, which is caused by HIV.

To dispel on common misconception: All individuals with AIDS have HIV, but not all with HIV have developed AIDS. For clarity purposes, both diseases will be referred to as HIV disease hereafter.

VAN Services
According to the Virginia Department of Health, there were 1,904 people living with HIV disease in the Northwest region of Virginia — which covers 31 cities and counties, including Harrisonburg, and Rockingham and Shenandoah counties — as of Dec. 31, 2012.

Given the level of surprise likely raised by hearing such statistics, one of VAN’s main goals continues to be educating the public about the disease, prevention and the importance of treatment after diagnosis.

Treatment helps those with HIV disease remain healthier longer; unfortunately, treatment is not always easily accessible.

Therefore, one of the many services VAN provides is medical case management for people living with HIV disease. Caseworkers are paired with patients who have been diagnosed and help get them connected to resources — specifically adequate health care.

“We make sure that everyone we’re working with has the ability to get the medical care they need,” de Havilland said.

It is vital that those with HIV disease take medication to reduce the viral load in the system, which helps slow the progression of the disease in the individual, as well as making it less likely for it to be transmitted to someone else, de Havilland explained.

Often, procuring medications and proper health care can be difficult for those who do not have insurance or are unemployed.

It can also be challenging to understand medical terminology and how to get the best care, particularly for those with a low literacy rate or for non-native English speakers.

Because the 78 clients VAN serves are so diverse, caseworkers individually assess patient needs and work to provide health care by assisting with costs and transportation, as well as providing a food bank.
In addition to medical provisions, VAN also helps those with HIV disease get adequate housing.

Through the housing program, VAN provides funds for emergency rent and utility assistance, first month rent and security deposit coverage, in addition to helping with moving costs. A small program allows VAN to help with a portion of rent every month, for a select few.

Fun Raising Funds
However, all of the programs depend on outside funds: VAN is funded primarily through two major federal grants.

Due to the nature of grants, nonprofits such as VAN don’t always know the total funds coming in.

The network partnered with the Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services in 2005, which allowed more opportunities to work with other local agencies and organizations while giving VAN visibility, but they continue to search for more ways to help their clients.  

To cover additional costs or for clients’ needs not covered by grants, VAN relies heavily on fundraising.

One of the main events is Tour and Taste, which allows people to contribute to VAN’s efforts while enjoying a scenic bike ride and a wine tasting. The third annual event will be Sept. 15.

VAN’s Tour and Taste includes 50-mile, 25-mile and 15-mile rides along the back roads of Mount Crawford. The rides leave at 8, 9 and 10 a.m., respectively. The start and finish is at CrossKeys, with a celebratory wine tasting when the bikers return from their journeys.

“It’s a fun fundraiser,” de Havilland said. “This is a ride, not a race; people just go out and have fun.”

Those who choose not to ride can also participate in the wine tasting and lunch, and should plan to arrive at 11:30 a.m.

When asked about the event this year, de Havilland expressed her excitement. “When you start an event, it’s just a tiny thing you work so hard for,” she said. “But every year you see it grow, and it’s been great to see [that] and I’m excited to see it continue this year.”

VAN’s fundraisers depend not only on those who attend, but on those who help make it happen. “We get a lot of local support, which is key,” she said, expressing her appreciation for those who have helped with this year’s event.

For the third year, VAN is hosting Tour and Taste in hopes that it will allow the nonprofit to continue supporting those in the area living with HIV disease; but de Havilland added that it’s also about continuing to spread awareness.

“There is no cure [for HIV disease],” de Havilland said. “Education is still such a huge part of what we need to be doing.”

For more information about the Valley Aids Network or the Tour and Taste event, visit valleyaidsnetwork.org.

Planning To Attend?
All participants must be registered. Registration ends at 2 p.m. Sept. 8.  Tickets for the bike ride and wine tasting are $60; wine tasting- or ride-only tickets are $50. Prices include food and entertainment. Only riders will receive a T-shirt.  Register online at valleyaidsnetwork.org. If planning to pay by check or for assistance purchasing tickets, call the VAN office at 540-568-8838.

Contact Sarah Stacy at 574-6292 or sstacy@dnronline.com.

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