Farewell, MAP

A few years ago, I was hired to work as a summer camp counselor up in the Greensboro area. The camp worked with chronic and terminally-ill kids. That job was part of the reason I moved to North Carolina in the first place.

Little of that is relevant to this, except for the last week. Our kids were AIDS/HIV afflicted children. My cabin had the youngest group: 8-10 year old girls.

We always had mini orientations every week before new kids came in. This got our weekly volunteers up to speed, refreshed us on HYPPA and served as a brainstorming session for us activity leaders. We also discussed the particular aspects of working with whichever group we had that week. Since we’d been dealing with everything from brain conditions to burn victims, we’d pretty much run the gauntlet. We’d changed diapers for 15 year-olds, spoon-fed a twelve year-old, dealt with young love, soothed fears of storms and tornadoes, and learned to use catheters.

The summer was drawing to a close, and the hardest weeks (physically speaking) were over. Of course, we were running a little ragged, despite the week-long break we’d had.

We gathered in the theater the morning before the kids got there. Assignments were handed out for registration, we covered the programming for the week, etc. We discussed the dangers to our kids’ health. After that, we went back to the cabins to rest up before registration started.

Our unit nurses gathered us together, and the head nurse came to each unit. (This camp had a full medical facility, complete with RNs, a doctor on call, MEDVAC on standbye, the National Guard and sheriff’s office keeping an eye out around the camp, etc. If there was trouble, it would be taken care of by the best of the best.)

The head nurse, a gruff older woman, sat us down and went over some of the things we’d already covered. Of course, we were a bit scared. We’d be giving these kids medications, exposing ourselves on a regular basis to one of the most frightening diseases we’d dealt with. More than that, the girls were so fragile. One miscalculation on our part could leave them deathly ill. That, at least, we’d already been through for the week with cancer.

She warned us that we were not to treat these kids any differently than any of our other kids. She gave us the odds of catching HIV from our girls–1 in a 1000, if I remember correctly–and said that we were safe as long as we followed basic precautions.

Then she paused, and with more passion than I’d ever seen her show, she leaned forward. “Don’t EVER let me see you deny one of these girls a hug, or treating them any differently, or holding them away from you. They are more sensitive to fear and denial, and they will pick up on it immediately.”

Not that she needed to warn us. Our eight girls came in like tiny little tornadoes. They attached themselves to us with greater abandon and joy than any other group. Little princesses, every one of them, who demanded the utmost, and gave it right back. I learned more about love, hope and strength from those children the first day than I had learned in a lifetime.

Leaving them hurt worse than anything I’d ever done, because I would happily have adopted every one of those holy little terrors!

Unfortunately, the camp experience ended on a bad note, and it wasn’t until about a year later that I took up volunteering again. One of my coworkers, a lovely 75 year old woman, was one of the East Coast’s most vocal and busy gay-rights activists, back during the 80’s and 90’s. Although she is straight, two of her children are not. Retired from campaigning and speaking, she still has an extended family of gay kids. She adopted me early on, and has become one of my most valued friends and mentors.

She invited–although invitations are best not refused from this wonderful lady!–me to volunteer for the AIDS walk in Charlotte. Her best friend was organizing it, and needed volunteers. My mother and I both volunteered. Talk about emotionally cathartic and draining!

Within two weeks, I had applied to MAP–Metrolina Aids Program–as a volunteer, and was accepted. At the orientation, my mother mentioned that I was a writer. By the time I walked out, I was a newsletter editor.

I’ll skim this part and just say that non-profit newsletters everywhere go through the same thing. Communication falls through the cracks because everyone has a REAL job, or family, or something. Articles get forgotten. They want it one way, you want it another, but neither party knows what the other wants until two days past the mailing date. The first articles don’t even show up in the inbox until a WEEK after the mailing date. Photos arrive to be captioned, but who the hell are these people? There’s not enough space. There’s too much space. We need more content. We need shorter content. We need all of these pictures in there, but don’t let it go over three pages long, even though we’ve got six pages just of pictures. Finally, it all boils down to: this HAS to be mailed on Monday. Well, when you just finally get all the pieces by Friday, and have to work AND housesit that weekend, this adds a new element of stress…especially since it has to go to the layout editor before it can be mailed.

Deadlines of a week or so look positively lovely anymore, let me tell you.

Anyways, the newsletter finally went out. It was only three weeks late, so hey! Chalk that one up as a success. The entire way, the staff stayed unfailingly sweet and polite.

MAP touched hundreds, maybe even thousands, of lives. They brought education to a school system that barely allowed the most basic of sex-ed. They focused on groups often overlooked in the war on AIDS, such as straight African American women. Housing aid, food, counseling, all provided whenever needed, usually by volunteers. They built a clinic. MAP struggled to find enough time, enough money, enough resources, and made the best of what they had.

They were a powerful force in the south, one of the leading defendants in the fights for equal care, for education and rights.

Yesterday, I received an email. MAP has closed its doors. My guess is that they just finally ran out of funds. At any rate, the community lost a powerful ally yesterday.

MAP changed lives, and handed people the tools to change other lives. What more can you ask for from any organization?


One Response to “Farewell, MAP”

  1. Morn,

    Even though MAP is gone, the lessons and the passions you experienced and learned will always stay with you and everyone this organization has touched. Even though it has officially closed its doors, its mission will live on.

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