Nashville CARES continue to grow, expand services

It’s never easy to be a nonprofit, no matter what the political or economic climate. And while that’s certainly true of Nashville CARES, the organization is marking its 25th anniversary with a renewed sense of purpose and direction.

“In the last year or so, we have seen an increase in demand for our material and financial support services, as more people are having short-term needs,” said Joe Interrante, chief executive officer. “We’ve seen increases in demand for our food and transportation resources, and people have needed more help with planning and problem-solving assistance. More people are getting into short-term crises where they need assistance with rent or utilities.”

And while its offices weren’t affected, Nashville CARES also saw a large spike in demand following the May floods as many of its clients found themselves out of work, temporarily homeless, or both.

“All of that, the regular demand and then when something like the floods happen and we get more people, is what we have to respond to,” Interrante said. “When those people present themselves to us, we try to help them.”

By operating everything from counseling services to testing to food banks and much more, Nashville CARES remains the chief player for people living with HIV and AIDS in the 17-county Metro Nashville area. Like all nonprofits, it relies on government funding, grants and private donations to keep the doors open and the services rolling. The annual Artrageous event has been a boon for more than two decades because it both raises revenue and the organization’s profile in the community, Interrante said.

“Everything we do, almost every program, depends at least in part on funds that we raise from the community,” he said. “Artrageous is one of our main benefitting events. Grants go up, they go down, they come and go, and that doesn’t stop the next person from walking through the door who needs a test, or finds out that he or she is positive and needs to see a counselor, or is in danger of losing their housing, or needs help with food. Having Artrageous and the community supporting us makes sure that we are there to respond to every person who walks through the door.”

More importantly, private funds can be used at the agency’s discretion, whereas other sources of funding often have strings attached in terms of how, when and for what they can be disbursed.

“Private money provides us with both the flexibility to respond to needs as they present themselves, and also to provide services and programs that are driven by science and research and not by political considerations,” Interrante said. “In the area of prevention, that means we can provide comprehensive programs to all groups at risk, regardless of how controversial that might be for some people. We all know that’s what works for slowing the spread of AIDS and keeping people free form HIV.”

The goal has always been, and continues to be, providing and strengthening a spectrum of support from prevention of HIV through support of those living with HIV/AIDS. In the center of that spectrum lie counseling and testing services, an area which the organization has expanded significantly in the last year.

“We’re now in three different hospitals and a number of community clinics as well as our regular targeted testing in the community,” Interrante said. “We doubled our number of tests last year and did more than 1,000.”

That’s an impressive number, and a roster of equally impressive digits continues to tell the tale. Almost 1,300 people were provided food assistance, either meals or through the CARES food pantry; more than 800 received transportation assistance; about 300 received counseling; more than 100 people with recent diagnoses, or who had drooped out of medical care, were linked back into medical services through a special early-intervention services program; and almost 1,400 people were brought into a planned advocacy support program, where a case manager worked with them to ensure they were following care plans and providing additional problem-solving services; almost 700 people received dental insurance, while about 1,500 people received assistance with medical bills and support while working to keep and utilize health insurance.

Then there are the education programs. Nashville CARES offered prevention outreach to more than 45,000 and 50,000 adults and young people through its various programs, as well as to 11,000 people who needed counseling and testing.

“We have one of highest rates of success in finding people who are positive who did not know before, and then getting them into care,” Interrante said. “That’s a very good thing.”

The sheer volume of clients, and services provided, can be exhausting, and it’s a far cry from what was on tap 25 years ago when the agency opened its doors. But now, as then, Nashville CARES continues to find ways to meet the community’s needs.

“It’s a bittersweet milestone,” Interrante said. “I don’t think any of us expected to wanted to be here 25 years doing this stuff, but I’m proud that we are, and I’m proud that we’ve changed to address the epidemic as it’s changed, and renewed our commitment to be here until it’s over. We want to be able to continue to provide the programs that slow the spread of HIV, eliminate new infections and make sure that every single person who has HIV has access to the care and support that helps them continue to live as members of our community. And in a nutshell, that’s what Artrageous makes possible.”

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