Why I Walk – A Personal Message from CAP CEO, Tyler TerMeer

It was fifteen years ago that I participated in my first AIDS Walk. I had only known my status for a few short months and I remember feeling incredibly vulnerable as I had only just begun adjusting to my new life living with the virus. However, looking back, taking that first step towards my future at the walk was a defining moment in my journey.

There are many layers to my relationship with AIDS Walk. As the Chief Executive Officer of Cascade AIDS Project I know just how crucial the funds we raise are to the community. Each year, thanks to the generosity of the Walkers and their donors we are able to fill gaps in prevention and support programs for those living with or affected by HIV.

As an activist, I see the power of people coming together for this cause. AIDS Walk was formed 32 years ago as a way to amplify our message in a time when our government would not listen, and unfortunately despite how far we’ve come, that need is still strong today. There continue to be consistent attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, communities of color, immigrants,women and all those traditionally furthest from opportunity.

So, as a person living with HIV, this Walk is personal. In the 15 years that I have been living with this disease, I have lost too many friends and loved ones. I have watched our brightest and most beautiful souls fade away long before their time. I walk for them. To honor those I’ve lost the best way I know how, by standing up, putting one foot in front of the other, and fighting back. Each step I take at the Walk will be a recommitment to this work. HIV/AIDS was allowed to flourish due to bigotry and fear, we are still fighting those sentiments today. This is why we must join together to make our collective voices heard.

If you are not already registered for the Walk, please do.If you will not be in Portland on the 7thand still want to participate, please register as well. We have many friends who are currently raising funds and will be ‘walking’ with us on the 7th from all over the country. Finally, if you can’t walk but want to support our fight, please consider making a general donation to AIDS Walk. Whatever you can give, let your contribution be your step forward in the fight against HIV. All funds raised will support the work of Cascade AIDS Project and our partner organizations.

Thank you to those how have already registered to Walk and/or have donated to the cause. I am profoundly grateful for your support, together our voices will be heard, and together we can end this disease and achieve our dream of an HIV free generation.

Now is Our Time,

Tyler

An Open Letter to the Black Community from Cascade AIDS Project Executive Director – Tyler TerMeer

I grew up in a house of strong, black women. My grandmother, Phyllis, was the center of our family. She taught me how to cook, the importance of compassion, what it means to be a part of a family, and perhaps most significantly, the importance of showing up to the table. In our home, that meant not just showing up to the dinner table on time, but truly being present, celebrating our successes, but also humbly acknowledging and owning our failures.

I’m writing this open letter to our community on behalf of Cascade AIDS Project (CAP) to acknowledge that our work with the black community in Portland has been lacking.  Our time for showing up at the table is far overdue, and I am deeply sorry that CAP has not been historically more responsive to the black community. 

To that end, I am reaching out to you today with humility and respect to take responsibility for our missteps of the past, to validate the experiences you may have had with our organization over time, and to humbly ask for your help in rebuilding a relationship of mutual trust and respect so that those in the black community who are living with or impacted by HIV can more easily learn about and access the services they need in the culturally responsive manner that they deserve.

After extensive conversations with community stakeholders, CAP hired an external consultant, Sirius Bonner, to bring expertise and a critical eye from outside of the organization to help us implement and improve racially affirming organizational practices, particularly as they apply to employing and serving the black community. This decision was made as part of understanding feedback from those we serve and from the experiences of past and current employees that taught us that we cannot rely solely on our black staff to bear the workload of making CAP a more welcoming place for black people.  

As a part of this process and our organizations’ ongoing and deeply held commitment to racial equity and to improving our ability to affect health equity across communities, we closed our doors and engaged in critical but difficult conversations about privilege and power in healthcare and the racism, discrimination, and historical trauma faced by the black and brown communities of Oregon throughout time. We provided training on microaggressions, implicit bias, and established a new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee which has recently begun to conduct our annual equity audit and the drafting of an equity plan to guide our organizations work through a racial justice framework.

For some, this will be a lot of new information, history, experiences, and context that undoubtedly challenges some core beliefs about the fundamental fairness of our nation. For others, it will be an opportunity to build on a foundation of knowledge, and lived experience in a new environment with a different set of people. For all of us, there have and will continue to be varying moments of discomfort… and that’s okay. In fact, I personally believe that growth and strength come only through continuous effort and learning to sit and work through that discomfort in our own time and way. This is emotional, difficult, but critically important work–especially for an agency that prides itself on social justice.

This is a moment in history where we cannot afford to be silent or complacent. We have an opportunity to begin to articulate a collective vision for addressing HIV in our communities that is grounded in racial and social justice, and builds on the inherent strengths in our communities. It is an opportunity to uplift a new generation of leaders and highlight innovative programming that is community-born and driven. It serves to remind decision-makers at all levels that a community lens is paramount. As the founders of the AIDS movement knew, there should be nothing about us, without us. CAP has a responsibility and a newly held commitment to leading with race.

For me, leading with race means CAP knowing when to step up or step back, and learning how, where, and when the community needs us to provide services in the lowest barrier ways possible. The first part of this journey has been working with Sirius and understanding where we go next as an organization, all while we continue to diversify our board of directors, staff, volunteers, and those we serve. I’m attaching to this letter her unedited report with recommendations for our organization over the next three years: CAP-Black Communities Report.

At first, this report was not easy for me to read and it was a lot to absorb. If I’m honest, I have been a bit overwhelmed as I’ve processed the information and our conversations, but above all, I’m committed to the importance of this work for CAP and the communities we serve.

The next immediate step in our journey has been forming a new partnership with the Urban League where CAP will be subcontracting with them to hire an employee that will provide medical case management services to members of our black community living with HIV through funding from the Minority AIDS Initiative. We chose to work through the Urban League because we know that they are better positioned than we are to reach members of Portland’s black community who need our services. We cannot let our ego or pride get in the way of serving our community in the most effective way possible–and sometimes that means taking a step back to let others lead.

As a black, gay man living with HIV in Portland, I am proud to see CAP owning our past, doing the hard work in the present, and making the commitment to show up in the future.

So, here I am pulling up my seat at the table, trying to make my grandmother proud by showing up, and I’m asking for your help, because CAP cannot rebuild this bridge alone.

With Humility,

Tyler TerMeer
Executive Director
Cascade AIDS Project

Cascade AIDS Project RECEIVES $15000 FROM THE ELIZABETH TAYLOR AIDS FOUNDATION IN PARTNERSHIP WITH MACY’S

March 26, 2019  Los Angeles, CA— Cascade AIDS Project has been awarded a grant for $15000 from The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) in partnership with Macy’s. The grant will be used for Camp KC; which is a unique vehicle to support children affected by HIV by providing them with an immersive summer camp experience in a safe and supportive environment, free from the stigma of HIV.

Cascade AIDS Project is honored to be recognized for our innovative approach in support of people affected by HIV and AIDS. “Cascade AIDS Project is a powerful part of a collective effort to achieve an AIDS-free world, a world Elizabeth Taylor is still helping to realize through ETAF” said Catherine Brown, Executive Director of The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. “ETAF and Macy’s are honored to support Cascade AIDS Project with these funds to continue our aligned goals of health equity and zero discrimination for all people living with or at risk for HIV and AIDS.”

Ninety-Nine Girlfriends Awards CAP/Prism Health Start-up Funds for LGBTQ+ Mental Health Program

CAP is very pleased to announce it is a recipient of the $20,000 Finalist Award from Ninety-Nine Girlfriends.

The award will fund operational start-up of an LGBTQ+ Mental Health Program at Prism Health. Prism Health is an LGBTQ+ primary healthcare center that opened spring 2017 in southeast Portland.  The new LGBTQ+ Mental Health Program aims to dismantle mental health inequities in the community by delivering culturally responsive mental health care that addresses issues of depression, isolation, anxiety and stress. All these issues are seen at alarmingly high and disproportionate rates in the LGBTQ+ community.

Through the LGBTQ+ Mental Health Program we will create a much needed resource for the local community that provides culturally specific and responsive care. The Program’s ultimate aim is to mitigate LGBTQ+ mental health disparities through a health care delivery model that provides culturally tailored care by providers with LGBTQ+ mental health experience all in an environment that feels safe and affirming. The LGBTQ+ Mental Health Program will provide individual and couples mental health therapy focused on the issues distinct to the LGBTQ+ community: coming out, relationships, gender and sexual identity, transitioning, stigma and bullying, just to name a few.

CAP’s Director of Healthcare Operations, Caitlin Wells, says, “this funding is the critical component we need to launch the LGBTQ+ Mental Health Program. We know the time for this program is now. The community is asking for it; we hear their call and have a responsibility to answer it.”

The LGBTQ+ Mental Health Program will kick off in January 2019. The full list of Ninety-Nine Girlfriends Awardees appears here. Read the full press release here.

Gilead Sciences Approves Funds to Expand CAP’s Aging Well Program

              

Portland, OR (November 16th, 2018) – Cascade AIDS Project (CAP) is very pleased to announce a partnership with Gilead Sciences, Inc. for the 2018-2021 Aging Well Program. Gilead is funding the three-year $375,000 program that focuses on supporting the wellbeing of aging adults living with and affected by HIV.

The Aging Well Program will mobilize long-term survivors, create a coalition of professionals in related fields, host educational/social events for survivors, improve communication and information sharing, and evaluate efforts – all focused on aging adults. The program also aims to directly reach aging adults living with and affected by HIV through a Long-Term Survivor Leadership Caucus and several social/educational events. Further the program aims to engage professionals working in HIV services and allied disciplines annually through a newly formed Oregon Aging Well with HIV Coalition. Finally, the program will have a broad communications campaign consisting of an Aging Well website, social media activities and print publications.

CAP Executive Director, Tyler TerMeer, says “we recognize the tremendous need for this program as the face of HIV in the county shifts to a population of older individuals living for many decades beyond their initial diagnosis. Many never expected to live to an old age and today find themselves unprepared to be aging well. Supporting their health and wellbeing is a key component of CAP’s mission and we thank Gilead for giving us the opportunity to do this work.

“Comprehensive programs for aging people living with HIV are essential to reducing the comorbidities they face, including those with limited access to quality healthcare “said Gregg Alton, Chief Patient Officer at Gilead Science. “Through our continued partnership with CAP, we aim to have a long-term impact on the overall health and well-being of aging people living with HIV, as well as to increase their quality of life.”

Read the full press release here.

CAP’s Peer Support Program Celebrates it Sixth Year!

Cascade AIDS Project’s Peer Support Program, led by Program Manager Hannah G., has been a driving force in empowering those affected by HIV in our community. The diverse set of Peer Support Specialists (Peers) are selfless heroes that make this work possible.  Running six years strong and expanding, CAP’s Peer Support Program lives by the unofficial motto “meeting individuals where they are”. Whether that be at the hospital, on the street, or at CAP offices, Peers make a point to not force expectations on their clients. Clients served are HIV+, living in the Portland-metro area and experiencing poverty.  In addition to the health challenges associated with HIV, clients are often in need of mental health and/or substance abuse support. Peers work to improve lives holistically, one client at a time.

Peer Program clients come from vastly diverse backgrounds, and therefore have varying needs. To accommodate, clients are selectively partnered with a Peer who best complements their personality, history, strengths, and barriers. Through its three distinct (and distinguished) Peers, CAP is able to reach a wide spectrum of qualifying clients on a personalized, culturally-competent level. Peers understand the stresses associated with an HIV positive status.  Through shared lived experience, Peers can relate to their clients with great understanding and empathy. Because Peers have been through many of the challenges their clients are facing, but have been able to overcome them, reaching a higher level of stability and wellness, Peers are in a distinct position allowing them to share their wealth of knowledge, coping tools, and positive stories.

Peer’s main focus is connecting their clients to regular HIV care, but they do so much more. Clients have complex health and social needs. For instance, those living with substance abuse problems are more likely to be homeless, unemployed, or live in poverty.  Peers help connect clients with resources to address these issues – be that driving clients to interviews or providing an emotional support system during extremely tough times. Some clients have no one else. Despite the challenges posed by client instability and emotionally taxing investment, Peers find ways to make it work. Peers are there to give clients the simple reassurance that someone is there for them – that they are not alone.

Peers have also created outlets for clients, such as a weekly art therapy session. This creative release helps clients express themselves and further connects them to their Peer. Although the final session was held at CAP’s Davidson location this month, they will continue on at CAP’s SW Washington location.

Across the board, Peers find their jobs to be extremely rewarding. One Peer explains the ability to put clients first, and respect their cognitive liberty, gives clients a platform for choice and space to establish trust. In relation to this, Peers feel the program provides a chance to make a difference and take one step forward in changing stigma through empowerment. With all of this however, comes some difficulties. It is hard for Peers to watch their clients fall. Peers must remember to be respectful of clients’ decisions and boundaries.  They make sure to not overstep or intervene too much, for it is ultimately up to clients to make choices.

The Peer Support team provide incredible benefit to the HIV+ community. Their work makes a difference in reducing stigma and provides CAP clients with compassionate healthcare. With an outstanding team to lead this program, CAP looks forward to continue this influential work for many years to come.

Cascade AIDS Project and Kaiser Partner for More Inclusive Intake Forms

CAP and Kaiser Permanente have kicked off a project aimed at changing both the way individuals disclose their gender identity when enrolling in Kaiser insurance and the way gender non-conforming patients are then routed through the healthcare system.

This initiative started with a non-binary CAP HIV/STI Testing Coordinator, Shannon Redmond. They chose not to check a “male” or “female” box during insurance enrollment. As this precluded them from receiving insurance, the employee then went through a lengthy appeal process with Kaiser in an attempt to accurately portray their gender identity on the intake form. While the situation was eventually rectified after multiple months with help from Compensation Systems Northwest, the scenario represented a bigger structural issue within Kaiser and prompted action aimed at rethinking the HMO’s forms and processes.

Over the next year Kaiser and CAP will work together as CAP employees disclose their gender identity to Kaiser using a brand new intake form with options beyond the existing binary male or female. The pilot will allow users to choose male, female, non-binary, or choose to decline. A non-binary or decline response will challenge Kaiser to create new paths to guide patients through its system. For example, these patients may require a combination of traditionally male and female services OR services that bely clinicians’ expectations based on a patient’s gender presentation. On the technological side, individuals have a temporary marker in the system to allow them to be identified by sex and not gender.

Kaiser aims to scale up and roll out this project nationally within a couple years. CAP and Kaiser look forward to the pilot year and the benefit it will provide not only to CAP employees, but the wider Kaiser patient population as the organization learns and grows through the project.

Full press release here.

Prism Health Celebrates its One Year Anniversary with an Open House

Cascade AIDS Project (CAP) is very pleased to announce Prism Health’s one-year anniversary. 

Prism Health is Oregon’s first and only lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, plus all other gender and sexual minorities (LGBTQ+) primary care clinic. As of May 2018, Prism has been open for one full year. To commemorate the event, Prism Health is having a One-Year Anniversary Open House Thursday May 24th 4:30 to 6:30 pm at 2236 SE Belmont Street, Portland. No RSVP necessary.

Prism Health was just an idea three short years ago when its parent organization, CAP, recognized an unfulfilled need in the local LGBTQ+ community for culturally affirming primary care. CAP spent two years, researching, planning, and raising funds for the one-of-a-kind clinic, and in May 2017, Prism Health opened its doors.

In its first year of operation, the clinic has far exceeded patient population projections and demographics. With 450 patients currently engaged in primary care, Prism is well on track to meet longer term patient goals. Over 90% of Prism’s first year patients identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community. Moreover, many of these patients are engaging in primary care for the first time in several years, despite having chronic health issues. Patients state they have finally found a clinic that is accepting and understanding of the LGBTQ+ community. They feel not only safe, but cared for in a culturally specific and tailored manner.

CAP and Prism Health look forward to the year ahead as they execute plans to kick off a clinic mental health program, as well as transition Prism’s mail-order pharmacy to an onsite pharmacy.

Read the full article here.

Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation Raises Money for CAP’s Camp KC

Cascade AIDS Project (CAP) is very pleased to be the beneficiary of fundraising efforts by the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.

Through the efforts of Laela Wilding, Ambassador of The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) and the 2018 Portland Film Fundraiser “Cleopatra”, over $3000 was raised for CAP’s Camp KC. Camp KC is a summer sleep-away camp that takes place every year on the Oregon coast. It is attended by children infected with or affected by HIV.

Children who are HIV-positive, or who live with a family member or caregiver with HIV, face daunting challenges. HIV still carries a potent stigma, and HIV-affected youth fear that if friends or schoolmates learn of the HIV in their family they will be ostracized. As a result, HIV becomes an invisible epidemic, and these children often have no one to talk to about the disease and how to cope with it. Living with HIV and watching family members deal with it is a very real daily stress and fear for these children. To compound the problem, HIV is likely to be only one of a number of serious problems they confront. Aside from health challenges, the families from which campers come are likely to face mental health and addiction issues, a history with the corrections system, and poverty. At Camp KC, children dealing with HIV themselves or in their family can feel “normal” knowing that every other child at camp understands their situation. A staff of dedicated social workers and a medical team experienced with HIV are on hand to make sure that Camp is a safe, fun, growing experience.

CAP thanks ETAF for this donation and fundraising effort. It will have a profound impact on the lives of children attending Camp KC in 2018. To see the full story click here.

Cascade AIDS Project Welcomes Tracy Curtis to Board of Directors

Cascade AIDS Project (“CAP”) is proud to introduce its newest board member, Ms. Tracy Curtis. CAP welcomed Ms. Curtis in December 2017.

Ms. Curtis is a Regional Bank President for Wells Fargo & Company. As an Executive Vice President, she is responsible for managing the customer service, sales and community involvement activities of nearly 800 team members at 74 bank branches in northern Oregon and southwest Washington. A native of England, she began her Wells Fargo career in 1988 as a teller.

Tyler Termeer, CAP Executive Director, says, “We are thrilled to have Tracy’s intelligence, grace, and business acumen on the CAP board. She is a great addition at a time when the organization is growing bigger and bigger.”

Ms. Curtis states, “I am honored and proud to be part of Cascade AIDS Project, especially as the organization is growing and trying new things!”

The full press release appears here.