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Nashville CARES promotes and participates in a comprehensive and compassionate responses to HIV and AIDS through education, advocacy, and supportive services.
Our purpose is to educate the community for increased understanding and prevention of HIV transmission, to advocate for the responsible public policy, and to provide serices that improve the quality of life for people with HIV/AIDS and their families.
Nashville CARES began at a meeting held in August of 1985 at the Life Styles Health Clinic. At that meeting, a group of men and women came together to discuss the appearance of AIDS in the Nashville gay community. Many of the participants had family and friends who were living with AIDS. Following the example of cities nationwide, they decided to form a group committed to providing education about the disease and support to those living with it. In October 1985 the group adopted the name "Council on AIDS, Resources, Education and Support" (CARES). That same month, Nashville CARES was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. AIDS has remained the exclusive focus of the organization since that time. In 2004, the Board of Directors formally changed CARES to mean "Community AIDS Resources, Education and Services" to recognize its origins and confirm its grassroots commitment.
CARES has provided education and direct services continuously since 1985. Initially education focused on raising awareness about AIDS in the public-at-large and among medical and social service providers, and providing prevention education to gay and bisexual men, people with hemophilia and IV-drug users. Over the years, CARES has created new programs to reach diverse populations. Systematic prevention efforts for African Americans began in 1991. The First Person program for youth began in 1993. Targeted programs for alcohol and drug using populations and for women began in 1994. Brothers United began in 1996 to address rising rates of HIV among African American gay and bisexual men. A program to provide HIV-infected pregnant women with intensive care and support was created in 2000 in collaboration with the Comprehensive Care Center and the Vanderbilt Pediatric AIDS Clinic. A second, peer-based program for youth (Survivor Club) was begun in 2001, and a program addressing the unique needs of younger (age 16-23) African American gay/bisexual men was begun in 2003. Healthy U, providing wellness and prevention education and support to people living with HIV, began in 2005.
Today more than 45,000 adults and youth receive education annually to help them reduce their risk for HIV infection. Through group workshops and individual counseling, CARES offers a comprehensive approach to HIV prevention, supporting decisions by young people to delay sexual behavior and giving sexually active individuals the skills to change risky behavior. CARES also provides HIV testing and screening, distributes education and prevention materials at fixed sites throughout the community, conducts workplace training, and consults on HIV issues.
CARES direct services initially supported gay and bisexual men, hemophiliacs, and their families, who were the first people in Nashville living with AIDS. As the numbers of IV drug users, heterosexuals, people of color, and women living with HIV/AIDS has increased over the years, the numbers of people from these groups served by CARES has also grown. CARES was founded at the time that the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was identified as a causative agent for AIDS (1984) and an antibody test was developed to detect HIV infection (1985). Thus, services have always been provided to people with HIV infection as well as those with AIDS or an AIDS-related illness.
Currently more than 2,400 men, women, and children who are HIV-infected are receiving the support they need to live with independence and dignity. Services include individual and group counseling, case management, emergency housing and help finding permanent housing, short-term rent and utility assistance, a food pantry and home-delivered meals, transportation assistance, assistance for dental care, assistance for insurance premiums and medical/prescription copayments, CARE Team practical support with daily tasks, outpatient alcohol and drug treatment, and social activities. The individuals and families supported by direct services, like the HIV/AIDS epidemic itself, come from every community, in numbers which reflect the incidence of HIV/AIDS in those particular communities.
While CARES initially focused its work within Davidson County, support was always available upon request to anyone affected by HIV/AIDS within the Middle Tennessee region. In 1993, the agency formalized its commitment to people throughout the region, with its first assignment of staff to provide services outside of Davidson County. Today CARES serves seventeen counties of northern middle Tennessee, which account for about 90% of the reported incidence of HIV/AIDS in the Middle Tennessee region and about one-third of the reported incidence of HIV/AIDS in the state as a whole. Staff are deployed throughout the region to bring services to individuals and families.
Individuals with HIV/AIDS may receive services at the CARES office, through HIV medical clinics in Nashville or Springfield, or from the case managers assigned to work in specific counties. (A separate corrections case manager can provide services as needed, especially pre-release planning, at local prisons and jails.) Clients can access services and contact their case manager at no charge through the agency's toll-free HEARTLine. Services are individually determined, based upon a particular individual’s and family’s needs and resources. Services are provided throughout the progression of HIV disease and relationships may last for many years, with needs and the services to meet them changing in type and intensity over time.
None of this would be possible without the generous support of our community. While government grants partially underwrite many programs, every service and education program relies in part upon individual, corporate, foundation and religious gifts, and special events revenue. Hundreds of volunteers give thousands of hours of support to programs, events, and other facets of agency operations.
- Amy Walter
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