A map of Alaska with the Southcentral region highlighted.
Organization: Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association
City: Anchorage
Region: Southcentral
Program Area: Human Services
Grants Received:
2011: $16,500  2001: $22,835
2010: $9,109  2000: $4,300
2009: $6,814  1998: $3,750
2008: $55,000  1996: $5,500
2005: $8,000  1993: $1,500
2004: $25,000
2002: $6,753

Messages of courage, hope, and warning

Mission Statement
Alaska AIDS Assistance Association

To be a key collaborator within the state of Alaska in the provision of supportive services to persons living with HIV/AIDS and their families and in the elimination of the transmission of HIV infection and its stigma.
A few weeks before Christmas, I am sitting in a little well lit room on Fireweed Lane, in a Midtown Anchorage office, with about 20 other people of all shapes and sizes and colors, dinning on pork roast and corned beef and salad and mixed vegetables and mashed potatoes. Real mashed potatoes. The Four A's, a direct service and advocacy group for people with HIV / AIDS, offers these meals to their clients at their office every Friday. A guy sitting next to me, whom I'll call David, is eating with relish.

"I love these meals," he tells me. "It gets me out."

Other people smile and nod. Then they talk about their jobs, or their lack thereof; about their relationships or lack thereof; about Christmas shopping and the war and the recent election. They talk about the things any group of disparate people talk about when they're sharing a meal.

4A's volunteers work on an AIDS Day quilt project.Spacer Image Down the hallway a young Alaska Native girl is going through a rack that holds the informational brochures. She leafs through one that reads, "Living with HIV: Your Treatment Plan."

Her mother is talking in low tones to a councilor. The young woman puts the pamphlets back, leans up against the wall, and wipes tears from her eyes.

In the front lobby, a few people sit on couches, waiting to be tested or to talk to someone. They look at their feet, their hands, through magazines, anything but at each other. It will take them awhile, if ever, to find their way back here, to the little room where people are talking and laughing.

David is telling me about his cabin in the Bush, about how he had just returned from a two-week stay there. There was a time, he says, that he couldn't go out there at all. He was too weak. Now, because of the drugs he's taking, he can. But he's still not as strong as he once was. Also, he has had to give up his big love: his banjo. His disease has caused nerve damage to his left hand. But still he's grateful, he says. His disease is under check now, his viral load basically non-existent.

Another man, a younger one than David, talks about his travels and his writing. He talks about all the places he had been, all the people that he's seen, all of the stories he's written and heard, all of the things he still plans to do.

Throughout the office are pictures of people who are living with HIV / AIDS. Under those pictures are their stories; how they got the disease, how they are living with it. They are messages of courage and hope and of warning.

One of the women in those pictures is on staff at Four A's. Her name is Sarah Carter-Pierce. In 2000, she was given only a few months to live. Now, she bounds into the small room where everyone is finishing up their meals, full of energy and enthusiasm.

"How is everyone feeling?" she asks.

The young woman with tears in her eyes walks down the hallway, past those pictures of people with a disease that she may now have, past others like her who were sitting on the couch, and out into the dusky December afternoon.

In this little well-lit room David is holding a phantom banjo on his lap, picking the phantom strings, trying to show me the way it once was, in his other life.

Amanda Coyne has an MFA in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa. She has been published in Harper's magazine, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Bust magazine, Jane magazine and has read her pieces on NPR's All Things Considered and Public Radio International's This American Life. She is a full time writer for the award winning weekly Anchorage Press.