News

A home of its own

By PAUL BALCERAK

Staff writer

The Kitsap County HIV AIDS Foundation has been helping local residents for more than two decades without a place to ever permanently call home.

Recently, however, that all changed. Today, foundation volunteers will officially welcome the community to the non-profit’s official headquarters with an open house from noon to 1 p.m.

The open house is one of three events today, with a silent auction and remembrance ceremony for HIV and AIDS victims planned later in the day.

Volunteers have been working “rather primitively” out of the new Kitsap Place location since early July, foundation president Natalie Bryson said. But the open house will serve as a more formal introduction of the new facility and will allow the community to see what the foundation is all about.

“It’s a foundation that supports an issue that’s sometimes difficult to understand,” Bryson said. “The education and the testing (for HIV/AIDS) are the two things that are most important.”

The foundation has several regular programs geared toward helping HIV and AIDS patients and their families in Kitsap County.

“We don’t just help those who are infected, but affected (by HIV or AIDS),” Bryson said.

Foundation volunteers deliver food from the Bremerton Food Line to clients once a month, sometimes going to great lengths. One anonymous volunteer makes a regular 110-mile trek to Bainbridge Island.

“They’re all happy to do it and get a great deal out of making a difference for people,” Bryson said.

Deliveries of essential non-food items, such as toiletries and cleaning supplies, also are made.

The foundation also hosts a free monthly dinner for clients and their friends and families called the Red Ribbon Supper Club. Guests are treated to home-cooked meals and a vibrant social atmosphere, which is important to those who aren’t able to get out often, Bryson said.

The foundation’s new office is a slick-looking installment just off Silverdale Way behind Michaels craft store. Creature comforts abound — hardwood floors, a room for the foundation’s youth program activities, a miniature library with HIV/AIDS literature — and the foundation owes much of it to a few generous donations.

“I don’t think there’s a thing in this whole place (that wasn’t donated),” Bryson said. “It’s really exciting to have everything fall together and have everything be what we always wanted.”

The foundation’s headquarters haven’t always been so comfortable. Since its inception in the early '80s, the foundation has mostly operated out of volunteers’ homes or wherever space could be found. When Bryson was elected president of the foundation in 2001, she converted her dining room into an office space.

“I had a flat surface and that’s all I needed,” she said.

The decision to take the foundation from people’s living rooms into a more official location came when the foundation started its youth group program last summer. The group had previously existed in Bremerton, but had lost support and was threatened with disbanding for good. The foundation’s board of directors stepped in, however, and quickly decided that appropriate facilities would be needed to accommodate the group.

Members of the program now meet each Friday at the new building to talk with each other and “share ideas,” foundation executive director Michael Goodnow said.

“It’s a chance for the youth to tell us what they want,” he said.

The new location has been advantageous for the youth program because of its close proximity to Kitsap Mall, a popular hangout for teenagers.

Of course, the foundation's board of directors also had to consider their budget when moving.

“We had to stay within the confines of the finances,” Bryson said.

Fortunately, the foundation’s payroll has been gaining steam during the last few years. One of the biggest financial boosts has come from the foundation’s annual AIDS Walk, which was kick-started by Goodnow in August 2006.

Previously, the nearest AIDS Walk took place in Seattle and donation funds from the walk were kept in King County. Now, funds from the foundation’s AIDS Walk stay in Kitsap County.

“That allowed us to do a lot for client support,” Bryson said.

Independent donations keep the foundation running, too. Some of the foundation’s biggest benefactors have included Seattle’s Pride Foundation, faith-based organizations in Kitsap County and American Marine Bank, which donated most of the furniture in the new office.

“They’re our heroes right now,” Bryson said.

More than anything, though, Bryson and other foundation volunteers are just happy they’re able to better help HIV and AIDS patients in need. The new location has already helped the foundation become more visible in the community.

“There’s more awareness as to what we do and the services we provide,” Bryson said. “If someone understands the issues, it becomes very easy to solve problems.”

Kitsap County HIV AIDS Foundation

2841 NE Kitsap Place

Silverdale, WA 98383

(360) 698-3335

www.kchaf.org

Events today:

Open house: Noon-1 p.m. (at KCHAF Center)

Silent auction: 2-4 p.m. (at KCHAF Center)

Remembrance ceremony: 6 p.m. (at Norm Dicks Government Center in Bremerton)

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