Making An Impact, Saving Lives
By Imara Canady and Denny Patterson
Photos By Sach | www.SachAdGroup.com
Founded in 1987, during the height of the AIDS epidemic, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) has grown to become a global non-profit organization that provides cutting-edge medical care to over a million people across the globe.
Originally opened as the AIDS Hospice Foundation, AHF began in Los Angeles and quickly expanded its services, to now have a direct impact in 15 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 43 countries. Leading the charge in addressing the current global HIV/AIDS epidemic, as the organization creates and implements new programs in communities across the U.S. and abroad, they expand the delivery of healthcare and influence over policy with the aim of saving more lives.
As the largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care in the world, AHF generates new and innovative ways of treatment and prevention. This is the hallmark of their success. “Our core mission is to provide services to people who are affected by HIV,” stated Michael Kahane, AHF Southern Bureau Chief. “Whether they are already living with HIV or they are at risk, we provide services focusing on wellness, prevention, and treatment.”
AHF in South Florida
In staying committed to its mission, AHF opened its southern bureau operations in Fort Lauderdale 20 years ago, and expanded its services, starting in South Florida and growing throughout the state. South Florida is the epicenter of HIV, leading the nation in regards to new HIV diagnoses. Through its healthcare centers, mobile testing units, and non-profit thrift stores, where you can also get free HIV testing, AHF has made a significant impact, especially on communities like Wilton Manors, FL and its surrounding communities, highly populated by LGBTQ+ residents. “We test more people than any other organization in South Florida,” Kahane said. “We also link more people to the appropriate care and resources they need to stay alive.”
As the Southern Bureau Chief, Kahane oversees AHF operations in the southern part of the United States, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Although the AIDS epidemic is still a serious issue, he believes it’s getting better in some ways. “I can say it is getting better because there are better treatment centers and living with HIV is no longer an automatic death sentence,” he said. “People living with HIV [and AIDS] are able to have much longer lifespans, and many more people are getting tested regularly to know their HIV status. More than ever in the past. Knowing your HIV status really is key.”
Originally founded to advocate against an inhumane proposition in 1986, and beyond providing its current cutting edge medical care, another key focus of AHF’s mission is advocacy. This aspect of AHF’s work continues to be a driving force within the organization today. In over 30 years of its service, AHF has never backed down from fighting for those in need. The organization is currently engaged in a number of ongoing initiatives and plans to expand and reinforce these efforts. Throughout its history, AHF has been committed to advocacy and it will always encourage people to be involved.
“Advocacy is a core part of the work of AHF, and we are standing up and addressing issues all across the nation,” stated Ebonni Chrispin, AHF Legislative Affairs & Community Engagement Manager (U.S.). “Through an array of events and several other education and awareness opportunities, you can find out what we are all about. We invite everyone to come and learn.”
“We need to continue having open discussions about the spread of HIV and what we need to do in order to curb the issue,” Chrispin continued. “The epidemic is not only here in South Florida, but also in a lot of urban areas around the country.”
AHF’s Commitment to the Community
“When it comes to community engagement, we want to ensure that more people are educated about HIV/AIDS,” Chrispin said. “AHF is all about education and awareness, especially to younger generations. You would be surprised to know how many millennials think that HIV/AIDS is no longer an issue. They will say, ‘That’s still a thing?’” HIV and AIDS is very much still a thing and we are living in the middle of an epidemic, especially in South Florida. This may be a tough topic for some, but AHF is committed to continue building strong partnerships with other organizations and government agencies throughout the community to overcome the strong presence of stigma and shame that permeates our community.
Over its three decade history, AHF has heightened its presence as a strong partner in the South Florida community and in local communities across the nation. Throughout South Florida, AHF supports the work of numerous organizations like Latinos Salud, Poverello, and SunServe. Most recently AHF has broadened its outreach and has developed impactful partnerships with the Miami Dolphins, the Urban League of Broward County, the Museum of Discovery and Science, and many local public school systems. Deeply connected to the LGBTQ+ community, AHF continues to be a strong supporter of pride celebrations across the state like Miami Pride and the Wilton Manors Stonewall Pride Parade and Street Festival. As a leading voice in bringing awareness around the fight against AIDS, for the last 14 years, AHF has also produced the annual AIDS Walk & Music Festival that has raised millions of dollars to support 10 organizations in the South Florida community that are working to address the AIDS epidemic locally. This year alone, this event raised close to $2 million.
AHF’s leadership in the community has also been exhibited by its rapid first-response to numerous countries impacted by life-threatening natural disasters. “We helped a lot with the impacted areas of Haiti and Puerto Rico,” Kahane said. “Wherever there is public health crisis, we will try our best to help out. We believe responses to these types of situations can be done much more quickly and efficiently and we will do what we can to help save lives.”
The impact of AHF in the community doesn’t just focus on the AIDS epidemic. Recognizing the negative impact of the affordable housing crisis that has crippled the nation, AHF recently launched the Healthy Housing Foundation (HHF) powered by AHF, a subsidiary of the organization, which provides decent housing units at an affordable cost to low-income individuals, including families with children, and those previously unsheltered or homeless. The work of HHF was started in Los Angeles with the foundation providing hundreds of units to families dealing with homelessness, to its current project, a multi-unit, low-income apartment building being developed in the Fort Lauderdale community, addressing the dire need for low-income housing in South Florida.
“We believe housing is a human right,” Kahane said. “Obviously, many people do not have access to it, and we are trying our best to try and change that. This is an issue we are passionately working on.”
A Great Place to Work
Not only does AHF impact and change the lives of many people suffering through hard times with HIV/AIDS and other circumstances, but also the organization has a positive impact on its staff. “It makes me feel so good to be involved and to support bigger issues greater than myself,” Chrispin said. “I passionately believe it is important for people to work together, even if you do not agree on the topic. I feel that passion about what it means for us to come together and make things happen. AHF talks about advocacy in so many ways, from healthcare to housing. To be able to work for an organization that literally and figuratively puts themselves on the line to help others, it is amazing.”
Kahane agrees. “To be honest, I was not sure if I initially wanted to be involved,” he said. “It was kind of a bunch of circumstances that illuminated the prospects for me. I saw the incredible work that AHF was doing and they were touching the lives of many people. To have such a positive impact, it really opened my eyes. Everyday I wake up feeling blessed to be able to do this job, and I never felt that way before. Working for AHF truly is a passion.”