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Emily V. Fette '08
When I was researching the Jesuit Volunteer Corps before applying, I was attracted to the work associated with serving those with HIV/AIDS. Probably like many who sign up to volunteer their time and effort, I had great dreams of fighting the injustices single-handedly and forever changing the lives of the people I helped. I was accepted to work with the AIDS Foundation Houston as a case manager assistant in one of the transitional housing programs, but all I heard was AIDS Foundation Houston. I was excited to be a part of a foundation whose sole purpose was to help those infected and affected. How fulfilling the work would be, I thought. And I haven't been completely off base.
Now six plus months into my commitment, my original expectations and perceptions on how the year would go have been long transformed. The housing program I work in is for families who were previously homeless. They come in with basically nothing most of the time and can stay for a maximum of two years. Most families consist of single women and children, although we accept any sort of family combination. The only requirement is that at least one individual in the family must be HIV positive. Early on I realized that the HIV status wasn't the largest barrier for these families, homelessness was. My focus turned away from saving people from the virus and toward keeping them off the streets. Together the case manager and I work with the residents to find employment, increase education, and raise self-determination.
Working in the program has opened my eyes to how I can effectively help the community I serve. Yes these persons are fighting the virus, but unfortunately that doesn't mean the world stops for them. They still have to take care of their children, buy groceries, pay taxes, etc. These things tend to take priority over their health which is when I understood that indirectly I am saving them from the virus. I help them with the everyday things so that they can take the time to care more about their health. My work isn't exactly finding a cure, but it's still important to the people I help and that is also fulfilling.