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Interview with Chris Cole, of Dorothy Awards Honoree AIDS Project New Haven

AIDS Project New Haven has evolved over its more than 30 years as an organization, an evolution which has mirrored the changes in community need.  Former Center Co-President interviewed APNH Executive Director Chris Cole for this week’s honoree spotlight:


  1. What is the mission of AIDS Project New Haven?

AIDS Project New Haven provides education, non-judgmental, comprehensive and holistic services to individuals infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. Our goals are to increase public awareness, promote prevention through educational programs and advocacy, and secure funding for the support services we provide for our clients.


  1. What has been the most important development for the fight against AIDS in the last three decades?

The most important development in the fight against AIDS in the last three decades has definitely been the advances in medications available to individuals.  Highly Active Anti-retroviral therapy has changed the face of HIV/AIDS.  With medication adherence and compliance in regular medical care the individuals living with HIV can expect to live a normal lifespan.


  1. What is the biggest misconception that people have about AIDS?

The biggest misconception, I believe, continues to be that someone with HIV has a limited lifespan.  HIV has become a manageable disease as long as individuals are compliant with their medical care.


  1. What has contributed to APNH’s longevity?

APNH has adapted to the needs of individuals living with HIV as well as demands of funding sources.  We have become very focused on a medical model of helping individuals overcome the barriers (often mental health, substance abuse and poverty) to maintaining compliance and full engagement in their medical care.


  1. If you could ask the greater New Haven community for one thing, what would that be?

I would have to answer two things here: the first is additional financial support – without financial support, we are unable to serve our mission.  The second would be a greater understanding of HIV/AIDS, who it affects, how it is acquired and how it can be prevented.  Stigma and judgment have always been significant factors in prevention of HIV, treatment of HIV and fair treatment of individuals living with HIV.


  1. What are the three characteristics or personality traits that APNH staff or volunteers need in order to effectively work directly with those infected?

Passion, compassion and patience


  1. What has been APNH’s most significant accomplishment?

Transitioning from a volunteer founded and based organization 30 years (ago) to an organization made up of professional staff who provide medical based support services and prevention services, along with a strong base of volunteer support.


  1. How has the face of AIDS – specifically in greater New Haven – changed since the organization was founded?

Thirty years ago AIDS was a life-threatening disease.  AIDS Project New Haven was founded to support individuals through the last days of their lives.  Today HIV/AIDS is a manageable illness and AIDS Project New Haven supports individuals in engaging fully in their healthcare and overcoming the barriers to access and compliance in their healthcare.


  1. What are some of APNH’s key fundraising events?

On the fourth Thursday of April each year, restaurants throughout Connecticut help us raise tens of thousands of dollars through our Dining Out for Life Event.  This year that event is on Thursday, April 24th.  Dine at a participating restaurant and a minimum of 25% of your bill will be donated to support the programs and services of AIDS Project New Haven.


Each autumn we have an Oktoberfest event, which includes German and autumn inspired food, beer and cider tasting, a silent auction and live entertainment.


Throughout the year, we also have many smaller events to support our work.  Just a few examples are a Bowl-a-thon in March, AIDS Walk New Haven in April and many other community and organization sponsored events that support our work.


  1. What do you hope for APNH in the next five years?

My hope for AIDS Project New Haven in the next five years is to continue to adapt to best serve individuals living with and affected by HIV/AIDS in the Greater New Haven area.  We have developed a top-notch behavioral health clinic and are exploring ways to expand the impact our clinic has in supporting our clients and community.  We are working to provide the wrap-around support needed, as well as assist clients in understanding the Affordable Care Act.  Finally, we continue to work on decreasing the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and identify those living with HIV but unaware of their status and engage them in treatment.

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