10/26/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Service-Oriented Organizations Help Families Facing HIV/AIDS

Twenty-seven years later and still without a cure, HIV/AIDS continues to spread at a staggering rate -- and not just abroad, but right here in the United States.

Recently, it was estimated that AIDS rates among black Americans rival some African nations. In fact, AIDS is the leading cause of death for black women ages 25-34 in the United States -- an embarrassing statistic for a country with access to some of the best medication in the world. So where have we gone wrong?

It was in the late 1980's that the world first learned the ravaging profile of HIV/AIDS. Slow government response and unimpressive media coverage presented obstacles to educating the entire population about how to protect themselves, and allowed for the disease to become stigmatized from the start. Even today, many Americans see AIDS as a concern for specific populations -- something haunting distant African countries.

A stance rooted in denial isn't solving the problem. It's time to get past the fear of talking about AIDS because no one is immune. In our nation's capital alone, approximately 1 in every 20 people is infected with HIV/AIDS. Ignoring a devastating disease that is right here in our backyard is what exacerbated its spread in the first place.

With the first generation of AIDS patients no longer around to tell their stories, we seem to have forgotten how AIDS affects the infected and their families, most importantly, their children.

Children often wonder who will take care of them if AIDS takes their parents away. With more than 15 million children worldwide orphaned by AIDS, extended family members are increasingly stepping up to the plate to take on the role of caretaker, so the need for quality educational and legal services for families impacted by the disease has never been greater.

Non-profit organizations like The Family Center in New York City and The Evergreen Network in Bridgeport, CT, recognize the impact that life-threatening illnesses have on families, with particular focus on HIV/AIDS. AIDS goes beyond just a physical disease; it can be emotionally, financially and psychologically burdening for entire families, which is why both of these organizations make it their mission to provide valuable family services.

The Family Center offers pro bono legal, educational and social services for families affected by terminal illnesses, the majority of whom are living below the poverty line.

One of The Family Center's most notable programs is the Buddy Program, which pairs adult volunteers with children for friendship and support. Whether it's a trip to a museum, lunch in Central Park or a movie date, time spent together is a chance to forget about everything going on at home.

Similarly, The Evergreen Network's Sunshine Kids program is an after-school group for children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. The group consists of children from kindergarten through high school and provides crafts, snacks and playtime.

The Evergreen Network hosts several holiday parties for children, including a much anticipated Halloween event--an opportunity for children who live in unsafe neighborhoods to feel included in the staples of the holiday, like trick-or-treating. The Evergreen Network also runs several support groups for teens, parents and grandparents.

Unfortunately, HIV/AIDS is not going away anytime soon. But while scientists and doctors work to discover a cure, organizations like these are fearlessly fighting to protect families affected by the disease. Perhaps their hard work will inspire all of us to better educate ourselves about what HIV/AIDS means for our society in the present and in the future.

Organizations like The Family Center and The Evergreen Network rely on the generosity of donors to be able to continue providing services to families in need. To learn more about either of these organizations or to make a tax-deductible donation, visit The Family Center or EverGreen Network.