Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Next Saturday night, the Nirvana Pool at the Hard Rock Hotel will be flooded with revelers clad in black and white as they gather to drink, socialize and raise money for local nonprofit Aid for AIDS of Nevada.
The annual Black and White Party is designed to be a good time for all involved, but it is also a crucial fundraiser for the agency, helping raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to support services for Las Vegans infected with HIV or AIDS.
The glitz and glamour of the Strip-side bash stands in stark contrast to the scene on a typical day at AFAN’s offices near Sahara Avenue and Maryland Parkway, only a few miles from Saturday’s party venue.
On a recent weekday morning, a steady trickle of clients wanders into the modest building, working their way through the maze-like offices to meet with case managers, dieticians and education specialists. AFAN sees between 30 and 40 clients on an average day, and although the AIDS epidemic in the United States has subsided from its peak during the 1980s and 1990s, staff members at AFAN say the persisting stigma surrounding the disease and slowly increasing infection rates mean there’s still lots of work to be done.
“This has been on the news since I was a teenager and people are still becoming infected,” said JeKeissa Mosley, AFAN’s lead case manager. “When HIV was first given a label, there weren’t many medications and treatment was poor. … Now that you don’t die immediately from it, I think people don’t take it as seriously anymore.”
There were 340 new HIV cases diagnosed locally in 2011, bringing the total number of people living with HIV or AIDS in Clark County to 7,284, according to the most recently available data from the Nevada State Health Division.
AFAN acts as a hub for those infected with HIV or AIDS, serving as a central referring agency that helps connect clients with medical and social services. The agency – which employs about 15 staff members and has an annual budget of about $3 million, the bulk of it provided through government grants – also provides emergency financial assistance, HIV prevention programs and support groups.
“It’s the little things,” Mosley said. “Whether it’s a food voucher, a bus pass, a check for rent or a meeting with the nutritionist, that has helped sustain someone, even if it’s just for a little bit to give them that stepping stone to get to the next level.”
Although the infected population is still predominantly male, Mosley said the “face of AIDS” was continuing to change with infections affecting people across all ages, ethnicities and genders.
This shift in demographics, along with new medicines that help HIV and AIDS patients live longer, healthier lives, are creating new challenges for AFAN.
“Over the years, the typical day here has changed. … The face of AIDS used to be men who slept with men, IV drug users. Now we have everyone from a homeless 68-year-old woman to a single mom with five children,” Mosley said. “One of the challenges we’re facing is … because of the advancements made in treatment, we’re now at the point where we have long-term survivors who are dealing with issues that come along with age on top of the infection. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer compound everything.”
These changes and a constant influx of new clients – AFAN takes in 30 to 40 per month— provide an added stress on the nonprofit’s already tight budget. “We continue to have an increase of clients that come and access services, but we’re not able to raise more funds. Our funding is consistent and we’re able to raise it a little, but it’s not what we need to continue our services,” said Antioco Carillo, AFAN’s executive director. “You do the best you can. You diminish the time clients spend with case workers, you modify forms. We’re seeing more clients with the same amount of people.”
Large fundraisers like the Black and White Party or AFAN’s AIDS Walk may seem to have little to do with addressing issues caused by HIV and AIDS in Nevada, but Carrillo said the money they bring in, which can account for more than 10 percent of the total budget, helps smooth over gaps in grant funding. They also serve as a way for AFAN to generate support in the community and connect with people who wouldn’t otherwise support the charity.
“They come to have a good time, but they get exposed to what we do. They get to understand the mission behind what we do,” he said. “We know if people attend any of the events we have, they’re automatically supporting the people we help.”