The face of HIV may have changed over the past 25 years, but for the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation the approach to helping people has remained the same -” keep it practical.
Started in 1984 by a group of friends with the very straightforward intention of helping a friend in need -” Bobby Goldsmith, the first known Australian to die from an AIDS-related illness -” the now multimillion-dollar organisation maintains the same pragmatic yet personal approach.
In the ’80s when HIV was at its most devastating, BGF focused on providing the essentials needed to make people’s last days more comfortable. In the ’90s that focus shifted to providing long-term housing and advocating for understanding from the wider community.
And now, as the organisation moves into its second quarter of a century the message from current CEO Bev Lange remains simple and to the point -” there are more people living with HIV now than ever before and they need your help.
Our 25th anniversary is an opportunity for us to talk about and honour not just the people who aren’t with us any longer, but about the people who are and who have a life to live, Lange told Sydney Star Observer.
This year is an opportunity for us to talk to more people about HIV and make them understand that even very small amounts of support can make a substantial difference.
Former CEO Levinia Crooks, who presided over BGF from 1998 to 2004, spoke similarly of how the approach taken during her time with the organisation had maintained a sharp focus to avoid being overwhelmed by the gargantuan nature of the task at hand.
Introduced to the organisation in 1985 she recalled how, at the time there was this dearth of services for people so BGF, to me, seemed incredibly beneficial and incredibly well-targeted in terms of the assistance it provided.
BGF provided things like ripple mattresses to stop people from getting bed sores, walking frames, things you could get from hospitals and other things you couldn’t get without paying for them or going on a waiting list, she said.
Just as importantly, the organisation provided an understanding that remained lacking in the wider community.
BGF gave people a level of dignity in approaching a service to get support. It’s one thing to say -˜I’ve got no money and I need some help’, it’s another thing to say -˜my money’s run out, I need some help’ and to then have them ask -˜what’s wrong with you?’ And have people jump on the other side of the counter because you say you’ve got HIV, Crooks said.
That complete fear of exposure and rejection was, for many people, huge. Especially when you’re thinking of people, many of whom had previously been out there earning and participating in the community and then suddenly didn’t have anything -” that sort of step for some people just wasn’t possible when they knew they were going to be humiliated by an agency they were seeking help from. Then there was BGF where that absolutely didn’t happen.
Initially only available to people in the Sydney area, BGF’s assistance now stretches across NSW as it strives to ensure its brand of judgement-free help is available to the people who need it most -” regardless of postcode.
I think we’re more accessible and equitable now than when we started, Lange said.
We work very hard to be an organisation that, if we provide assistance in one place, we want to provide it in another. I’m not sure if we’d ever move into national, but we’ve received feedback saying that the type of services BGF provides would be of interest in other states and we will consider that over time.
But I think that the board’s and my view has always been that we better make sure that we do things right in NSW first.
Money, of course, is the big requirement and Lange said fundraising is increasingly one of the organisation’s biggest challenges.
I think HIV has been off the air for many people for a long, long time, she said.
Fundraising is increasingly difficult for HIV organisations in spite of higher numbers of people living with HIV than at any other time in history.
The rise in the number of people living with HIV marks the successes of HIV medicine, but it creates a new set of challenges as support services look for ways to care for an ageing population.
I believe our role for the future is maintaining financial assistance -” particularly in the areas of helping people manage their health and wellbeing and supporting people to make decisions in their lives so whether that’s about returning to work or study, or just about gaining a greater level of control over their financial circumstances, Lange said.
BGF has taken an approach of self-reliance since the ’90s in order to maintain its relevance and currency.
It was one of the first Australian organisations to offer clients interest-free loans and now creates vocational programs, like the Phoenix program and Positive Futures, to help people with HIV re-enter the work force.
David Polson, an ex-client turned volunteer, says it’s an approach which works and provides something much more important than money.
From my perspective as a client I see the services remain the same, but they’re being developed to be about helping us to help ourselves, he said.
It’s about developing us as people. With medications being so good these days, more people are getting their lives back and from what I can see, BGF is helping people to get their lives back, which has wide benefits for both the people they help and the community which gets people back in an active manner.
info: For more information on Bobby Goldsmith’s services go to www.bgf.org.au. Tickets for the Mardi Gras Glamstand are available through Ticketmaster: www.ticketmaster.com.au or phone 136 100.