When Mark S. found out he was HIV-positive 30 years ago, he pretended the diagnosis never happened. He figured it didn’t matter since his doctors told him he only had seven years to live. Mark was too ashamed to tell his family or friends and turned to drugs to cope with the fear that, like so many of his friends, he would die.
Several years after his diagnosis, Mark came to the Pittsburgh AIDS Taskforce (now Allies for Health + Wellbeing) and learned his diagnosis wasn’t a death sentence. He worked with a case manager who helped him reach an undetectable viral load. Although healthier, Mark struggled with substance use and periods of relapse.
Through all of this, Mark continued to work with Allies; receiving housing when he was homeless and using the food pantry and transportation assistance regularly. He started to attend daily addiction and recovery meetings. This past year, Mark started mental health therapy at Allies to address his past trauma and the recent loss of a close friend.
Mark’s journey has been rocky, and he credits Allies with helping make life manageable and giving him a strong support system. Today, Mark attends many local support groups, volunteers at Allies regularly, and knows he can live a long, fulfilling life thanks to the support he receives at Allies.
Michelle had struggled with addiction since she was 16. She’d been in and out of jail and was finally in recovery after several decades. While in a recovery facility, Michelle tested positive for HIV. It was the third time she had heard this diagnosis, but the first time she did something about it. The Allies Health Advocate who tested her helped Michelle realize that taking her health seriously was a big part of moving forward in her life – something she knew she wanted to do, but just wasn’t sure how.
When Michelle came to the Allies Clinic, she quickly felt at ease with the supportive and welcoming medical staff. The staff worked diligently to treat her HIV and other serious medical issues, many of which had been going on for years. Michelle started to feel healthier and began working with an Allies case manager to address other needs – like finding recovery supports and housing.
After what felt like great strides, Michelle became involved in an unhealthy relationship. She moved out of town, stopped going to appointments and taking her medication, and quickly relapsed. Michelle was really struggling, but she never gave up on herself. She stayed in regular touch with her Allies case managers, who consistently encouraged her to return to Pittsburgh and to reengage with medical treatment and her recovery resources.
It took a few months, but persistence paid off. Michelle, who has no family in the area, moved back to Pittsburgh because she felt that Allies would give her the support she needed. She knew that her Allies team believed in her health and recovery even when she didn’t. Today, she is back on her medications, actively working on her recovery, and is attending therapy sessions with Allies’ Behavioral Therapist.
When Alex stumbled upon an ad for an Allies’ Food Pantry Volunteer, he was drawn to the position because it hit close to home. Alex once relied on a food pantry himself. He also knew he wanted to work with an agency that supported the LGBTQ+ community because he had seen many of his friends discriminated against at an early age. He signed up, but didn’t realize the impact it would have in his life.
Alex now regularly assists Allies’ food pantry. Every Sunday, Alex picks up food orders from local grocery stores, helps weigh and organize the food, and restock the shelves. After facing the food insecurity himself, Alex is grateful that Allies has given him a direct, tangible way of helping others with the same challenge. It serves as a reminder of how valuable these services are to those who need them the most.
Through his volunteerism, Alex knows that Allies is serving people who could always use a little extra compassion. He is moved by the staff’s big hearts and willingness to serve others even when the job is difficult. The staff is constantly reminding clients (and all those who walk through the door) that when they are facing hard times they don’t have to stay where they’re at – Allies is always here to help. Through volunteering Alex has learned that lesson, too. Because of Allies and its amazing staff, he feels he has found a way to show up more in his own life.