Missionary zeal

There’s no such thing as a quick rundown of services provided by Nashville CARES.

The agency means a lot of things to a widely varied population in Middle Tennessee, with programs ranging from HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention to medical services, meals, support groups and more. That’s why every year, the funds raised from Artrageous are pumped straight back into the community in a hurry, said Joseph Interrante, CARES chief executive officer.

“I think donors want to know where that money goes, and we put 90 cents of every dollar given into programs,” Interrante said. “That’s a very low overhead, which can make us crazy at times, but we work to keep it that way.”

While the agency’s programs are constantly being reexamined for effectiveness, with some being suspended and new ones added accordingly, there are some core services that do not change.

They include prevention programs, mental health services, community awareness and new initiatives.

Prevention programs. According to Interrante, there often is so much red tape involved with government funding that outreach and prevention programs are better served with private dollars.

“The private funding allows us to do what research says we need to do to be effective,” he said. “If the government says we cannot promote homosexuality, whatever that means, then it’s hard to have a prevention program for gay and bisexual men. Contributions allow us to have prevention and education that’s comprehensive and uncensored.”

Mental health services. Nashville CARES lost United Way grant funds that helped to pay for its mental health services, which included support groups and individual counseling. Having donated funds to fall back on has ensured that the organization can continue these services uninterrupted.

“People don’t stop coming through the door because our funding stops,” Interrante said. “Private support allows us to continue those mental health and emotional support services at full capacity to all those who call and walk in needing them.”

Community awareness. By taking part in national campaigns as well as spearheading local ones, Nashville CARES is able to help keep awareness of the epidemic in the public’s mind, as well as promoting its own education and outreach programs to the community.

New initiatives. A rapid screening, or enhanced, targeted rapid-testing program, was launched by the agency this year. The goal is to identify HIV-positive people who are unaware of their status, and get them linked into care and treatment early on so they won’t continue to spread the virus. The new program has taken about two years to get up and running, and is being run in tandem with the Comprehensive Care Center, Interrante said.

“And all this is in addition to the 130,000 meals we distributed last year, the 10,000 bus passes and gas vouchers, the 3,000 hours of practical support with household tasks, the 2,000 hours of counseling, the education of 34,000 GLBT folks around HIV, the distribution of 176,000 safer-sex kits in the community … but that’s our mission," Interrante said. "And it’s the tremendously generous support of people in the community who come to Artrageous who help us to be able to do all that.”

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