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After 30 Years, AIDS Task Force Changes Name, Renews Focus

Sean Bueter

After 30 years of operation in Fort Wayne, the AIDS Task Force announced Wednesday it’s changing its name and sharpening its focus.

The change comes after AIDS Task Force staff worked for a year to reexamine the appropriateness of its image. After research that included focus groups, client interviews and additional community input, the group has picked a new name: the Positive Resource Center.

The change, according to Executive Director Jeff Markley, comes as the organization’s mission has evolved since it started 30 years ago. In addition, staff found that the AIDS Task Force branding didn’t fit their diagnosis, or made them concerned about their privacy.

When the organization was set up in the mid-80s – in the height of the U.S. AIDS crisis – he says it was focused more on helping those with AIDS who had become isolated from family and friends because of their condition.

“And for a lot of them it was helping them die with dignity and die with people around them. And absolutely, in 2015, we’re still doing that with some,” Markley said. “But the majority of our clients, we’re working to keep them healthy.”

The Positive Resource Center serves about 400 clients annually, about 70 percent of whom are HIV positive, but do not have AIDS.

That’s a major leap forward from a time when an HIV diagnosis was akin to a death sentence. In recent years, new drug treatments and regular health screenings mean many patients can live far longer lives with almost no trace of the virus in their bodies.

But Markley says there’s more work to do, and the Positive Resource Center is partnering with students from the Universitiy of Saint Francis in preparation for a major public awareness campaign later this year. The center received a $60,000 grant to help the effort.

“Part of our mission now is reeducating the public on what HIV and AIDS look like today, because you don’t see it like you did during the crisis of the 80s and 90s,” Markley said. That mission will also include raising public awareness about the importance of being tested for HIV.

Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry attended Wednesday’s announcement. He says the evolution and strengthening of organizations like the Positive Resource Center isn’t just good for their clients, but also an economic development issue.

According to Henry, companies considering moving to new communities are increasingly asking about schools, quality of life, and social services – including HIV/AIDS resources.

“It’s a growing concern in our city, our state, and our country,” Henry said. “We need to address it as a social concern, and that’s exactly what this organization is doing.”