An offering of support

By Yvonne Condes

Arizona Daily Wildcat

After seeing the pain and isolation two close friends went through while dying from AIDS, Sarah Deur knew she had to do something to help those with the disease.

"It makes me very sad to see a friend ... and you know they are dying," said Deur, a UA nursing senior.

The way she helps is by volunteering at the Shanti Foundation of Tucson, a nonprofit organization for people affected by HIV, AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses.

She does office work and phone crisis. She said many calls come in from younger people saying they need advice because "the condom broke, what if I have AIDS?"

She advises the caller to ask their partner about their sexual history, if they are intravenous drug users and urges them to get tested for AIDS every six months.

It is important to be tested in a place that promises confidentiality, she says. Some clinics and health centers are anonymous, so the person's name is confidential unless they come up positive. The health organization is then required to notify the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and that information can then obtained by insurance companies, she said.

Deur wants to become a "buddy" to a Shanti client, to provide one-on-one peer support. The volunteer assists the person in everyday tasks such as buying groceries, going to medical appointments, and completing tasks around the house. Sometimes the "buddy is the only friend and (they're) dying alone and the buddy is the only person who gives a damn," Deur said.

Robert Castrillo has been a peer counselor and educator since he graduated with a degree in psychology a year ago.

Castrillo said he was reading statistics on the number of AIDS cases in hospitals when he learned that 20 percent of AIDS victims are Hispanic, an ethnic group that accounts for only 6 percent of the U.S. population.

It was this and the loss of a friend to AIDS in 1992 that prompted him to volunteer.

Castrillo has been a buddy for three people, the last time for three months until the man passed away. When they met, he was starting to become very ill. Castrillo would call and check up on him, visit when he was in the hospital and spend time with him.

"He had a really funny thing for the Waltons," Castrillo said.

The end of his buddy's life and the way that he faced it changed Castrillo's perspective. Now he realizes the need to "concentrate on the joy that life gives .... and appreciate (it)," he said.

There is a waiting list for clients to be matched with volunteers, said Kelli Griffith, Shanti training coordinator.

"What makes us work is our volunteers. If it weren't for them we couldn't do it because we don't have a whole lot of money," she said.

Funding for the Shanti comes primarily from individuals, businesses and civic organizations. They also receive money from fund-raisers like the AIDS Walk, the gay and lesbian community, and gay bars, Griffith said.

It's 'Bout Time (IBT's) located on Fourth Avenue participates in the Share Bears program the first Saturday of every month. A representative at the door collects a dollar from people coming into the bar and they receive a sticker saying "I am a Share Bear." The money then goes to people with HIV/AIDS who are in need of financial support, said manager Pete Lara.

"It's fantastic. It's a very easy source for the Shanti to get money and it's really needed for those people who are so incapacitated that they can't work," Lara said.

Another program for clients unable to support themselves is the food pantry. Clients can come in and get food if necessary or volunteers will take it to them.

"When you are handing out a bag of food to a family that doesn't have any, it is totally rewarding," Deur said.

The Shanti is completely confidential because "unfortunately the ignorance and stigma is alive and well," said Griffith.

Castrillo learned this last year while working at the Shanti booth at the Fourth Avenue Street Fair. When some people realized that the booth was for an AIDS-related organization, they were afraid of getting close to the booth, he said.

"It surprised me that in the '90s people are still that way," Castrillo said. "Unfortunately this disease will affect everyone in their lifetime."

For more information call Griffith at 622-7107.

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