GSP CEO Caroline Huffman

Good Samaritan Project (GSP), which has provided HIV-related services in Kansas City since 1984, will move its offices to 5008 Prospect Ave., Kansas City, Mo., in late December to better serve clients. The area of the metro around the new location is near the epidemiological center of local HIV infections, and it has some of the city’s greatest unmet social and health needs.

Many members of the public have the perception that HIV is now easily managed and that those who need care can readily find it. But that is not the case for everyone. Higher rates of HIV infection among persons of color, low-income people and homeless people increase the risk of transmission within those populations.

GSP’s services have evolved as the treatment and care options for HIV/AIDS have changed. But the agency’s holistic and dignified approach to care has resulted in great success in viral suppression.

An inclusive, ‘whole person’ approach

Good Samaritan Project provides inclusive, comprehensive and integrated health and wellness services to those affected by HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. As an integral part of the LGBTQ community, GSP welcomes clients of all genders and orientations, whatever their health status, background, orientation, age or identity.

Caroline Huffman, the CEO of GSP, places a high value on human dignity, and she’s a strong believer in cultural humility, contending that there is no such thing as true cultural competence. Huffman believes that this humble approach, along with radical hospitality, can lead to a warm and welcoming environment and foster meaningful inclusion. Keeping these practices uppermost in one’s mind prevents staff-client interactions from backsliding into perfunctory transactions. Building and maintaining relationships with clients, with authentic compassion and genuine friendliness, leads to better outcomes.

Nearly 35 years in, GSP is at the forefront of sexual-health service delivery. Adopting a “whole person” perspective, GSP offers case management, mental health counseling, emergency and transportation assistance, HIV-prevention services and testing directed toward those most at risk for infection. Staff also can refer clients to other providers and help clients acquire health insurance.

Good Samaritan Project receives funding through the federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009. Four providers in Kansas City receive these funds: GSP, KC Care Health Center, Truman Medical Center and the University of Kansas Medical Center. Of these four, GSP serves the second-highest number of HIV/AIDS clients.

A primary goal of HIV treatment is viral load suppression, which helps clients enjoy better health and require fewer physician appointments. These clients are also 96 percent less likely to pass on the virus. For the 12 months that ended Aug. 31, GSP had the highest viral load suppression percentage of the four local grant recipients: 93 percent of its clients achieved viral suppression. The average for all four recipients was 86 percent.

More than half of GSP’s clients are persons of color, and half fall below the poverty line. Many GSP clients deal with stigma and discrimination fueled by racism, homophobia, financial insecurity, and more. The spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities that we recognize today can combine with other elements such as race and class to make cultural humility more important than ever.

Good Samaritan Project has a significant number of clients who have been HIV-positive for many years, and these individuals will require support well into the future. GSP also serves our homeless neighbors. Recently, GSP has partnered with Hope Faith Ministries and Artists Helping the Homeless. These organizations provide activities related to HIV prevention, education and testing, and GSP’s presence at those activities has given it greater access to high-risk individuals (with regard to HIV transmission). Another reason that outreach to the community is necessary is due to the poor state of mass transit in Kansas City.

New location for GSP.

Finding a new space

Good Samaritan Project has been located at 3030 Walnut St. The building is multi-story but has no elevator, and it recently sold to a new owner. Huffman asked the new landlord about installing an elevator, but he told her that that was not feasible. For this and other reasons, Huffman began looking for a new home for GSP.

For six to eight months, she searched for a building that was accessible, safe, affordable and near mass transit stops. She found a space at 5008 Prospect Ave. It is located within the 64130 zip code, one of two local zip codes that have the highest rates of HIV and the lowest life expectancies.

The new address’ location at the epicenter of local HIV infection is both symbolic and practical. It shows that the organization wants to be close at hand for its current and future clients, and the office’s proximity to many clients’ homes makes connecting easier. The Mary L. Kelly Center and Covenant Presbyterian Church – two other community-minded organizations – are near the new location.

Huffman is hoping to add a licensed mental health staff member in the near future. She said that mental illness occurs in HIV patients at almost twice the rate as it does in those who are not infected. This is yet another stigma borne by many GSP clients.

Another important difference worth noting is that there will be no on-site clinic at the new address. Huffman said this deficiency would be overcome by having a mobile medical unit make regular visits to the facility.

GSP has employed a bilingual (Spanish-English) community prevention specialist for many years. It now has three bilingual staff members. The 20-person staff includes people of African, Asian and Latin American descent.

An ever-present question that GSP planners seek to answer and act upon is: “How do we engage persons of color?”

Brad Osborn interviews D. Rashaan Gilmore, Caroline Huffman and Rev. Eric D. Williams.

Important relationships

Huffman regularly meets with the Rev. Eric D. Williams and D. Rashaan Gilmore, and she highly values her relationships with these two men, as well as GSP’s relationships with their organizations. Williams is the pastor at Calvary Temple Baptist Church, 2940 Holmes St., Kansas City, Mo. His church is home to the Calvary Community Outreach Network (CCON), which provides AIDS prevention and education, predominantly in the local Black community.

Gilmore is the founder and president of BlaqOut, which is made up of advocates, activists and health-care professionals working to address the psycho-social and environmental challenges faced by Black queer/same gender-loving (SGL) men in the greater Kansas City area.

Huffman believes that honesty and transparency are necessary in any collaboration where sharing resources is key. These men are her friends. She also says that “formality for formality’s sake” can sometimes stifle great ideas.

According to Huffman, organizations like CCON and BlaqOut are in many ways more important than GSP, because they engage people directly in their communities. She views them as incredible partners, noting that not much gets done without partnerships built on solid relationships. As a straight White woman, she knows that she needs partners like Williams and Gilmore to help GSP provide services to so many people who are vulnerable and perhaps righteously incredulous of outsiders.

One initiative of CCON is Taking it to the Pews (TIPS), a church-based

health program that empowers places of worship to help reduce the spread of HIV. TIPS partners distribute culturally and religiously tailored materials to congregation members. CCON staff provide technical assistance and perform testing.

People in minority communities have traditionally sought out churches for help and healing. The paradigm for HIV education, treatment and care in communities of color is often different from the model that was built based on the gay White male experience of the 1980s and ’90s. It’s important to respect cultural differences, rather than riding in as some uninvited savior.

Each March, CCON participates in the National Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS of Greater Kansas City. The week is sponsored by Balm in Gilead, an African diaspora-focused group that focuses on prevention and healing diseases such as HIV/AIDS through the work of faith institutions.

BlaqOut’s focus is the health of Black queer/SGL men. It recently completed a landmark health and wellness needs assessment for Black queer/SGL men in the Kansas City area, called the BlaqOut 2020 Vision Survey. The comprehensive survey sets a baseline for the group in question and will be a source of data to aid researchers and community organizations for years to come. Both Good Samaritan Project and the Calvary Community Outreach Network were partners in the survey.

Gilmore said that one thing that Black LGBTQ Kansas Citians desperately need is a place to come together – a safe space of their own to share experiences and be themselves. Be it a bar, coffee shop or some other endeavor, its presence is overdue. BlaqOut has its offices at GSP and will move with GSP to the new location.

Williams has worked in HIV prevention and education for about 25 years. He knows that many people were left behind in the church’s early work in that field. Now, when he sees that something hasn’t been working, he is open to new ideas and approaches.

All three leaders know that there are people out there suffering, feeling as if they don’t belong. Their access to community has been forbidden. They need to be met where they are and lifted up in an earnest and dignified way.

By maintaining their relationships with each other and connections among their organizations, Huffman, Williams and Gilmore hope to achieve a synergy that they can use to power their future work.

CCON’s World AIDS Day breakfast

The breakfast will be at 7:45 a.m. Nov. 30 at the Kauffman Foundation, 4801 Rockhill Rd., Kansas City, Mo. Tickets, at $15 per person, are available at ccon-kc.org. No walk-ins.

Testing at GSP

Good Samaritan Project offers free HIV and STI testing during walk-in hours, by appointment and at outreach events. Walk-in testing hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 to 7:30 p.m.

Free condoms, personal lubricant and other safer-sex materials are available at GSP. Staff can also provide resources, education and referrals for PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), and community presentations on HIV and STI prevention.

Donations to GSP

Good Samaritan Project accepts donations of both time and money. With the new location, there will be a new energy for the volunteer program. Volunteers will be trained to become meaningful ambassadors in the community.

Donor engagement will also be a priority. Just as client-staff interactions should be vital, authentic relationships instead of numbing and transactional, so, too, should donor-GSP interactions be meaningful. To learn more about becoming a donor, visit gsp-kc.org/get-involved.

FLAVOR!

GSP has done something unique with its annual signature fundraising event: they’ve split it into a series of six uniquely themed dinners and events called FLAVOR! Jonathan Gregory and Kristopher Dabner co-chair the series, which Dabner refers to as friendraising.

Hosts of the FLAVOR! events often open their homes and cover the costs of food, drink and entertainment so that all profits go to GSP. Prices vary among the events.

The remaining three events are described below. Go to flavorkc.org to reserve a spot.

Nov. 3 – Día de los Muertos: Celebration of Life & Art

You’ll enjoy Mexican finger foods, sugar skulls, and margaritas in front of life-size catrinas as musicians play. And you’ll have the chance to bid on Hugo Ximello-Salido’s art in a silent auction.

Nov. 4 – Fashion. FLAVOR! Fun.

Join your friends at GSP for a Flavor!-ful fashion show featuring local designers and entertainment as style takes center stage.

Nov. 5 – Our Peruvian President

Hosted by GSP board president the dinner will feature a variety of dishes from the land of the Incas – all cooked to perfection by Gabby’s Peruvian Restaurant & Catering. And post-supper pisco sours are de rigueur, of course.

Curative has announced that it is currently providing COVID-19 no-cost testing in your area at Metropolitan Community College.

Stay safe and get tested!

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Photo by Alonso Reyes on Unsplash

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