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Meet Justin Miller of CARE for AIDS in Grant Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Justin Miller.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Justin. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Twelve years ago, as a rising college sophomore, I heard a presentation about the devastation caused by the HIV/AIDS crisis and the unspeakable toll it was taking on families and communities across the world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Tragically, the most noticeable group absent from the fight against this pandemic was the global Church. This realization led me on a journey to discover what was the Church’s role to play, and my searching led me and three other college students on a trip to Kenya in 2007 to research and film a documentary about the state of HIV. On that trip, we discovered a major gap in services that the church was perfectly positioned to meet, and we also met two Kenyan pastors, Cornel and Duncan, who were prepared to implement this new model.

The partnership we formed with Cornel and Duncan launched our organization, CARE for AIDS. Our first pilot project launched in the summer of 2008. It was hosted in a local church outside of Nairobi and served 80 of the most vulnerable families in the community living with HIV. It provided them with an array of social services like counseling, job training, nutritional support, and spiritual care. There was an abundance of medical support being provided to HIV patients, but the shortage was in the wraparound care. Although our first attempt was rife with mistakes, our theories about the types of care people needed and the role of the local church in meeting those needs were correct. Cornel and Duncan became the full-time leaders of our African operations, and we expanded into more urban communities across cities in East African. Today, our staff of 150 Kenyan and Tanzanian nationals works in 54 urban slums in the cities of Nairobi, Kisumu, Mombasa, and Dar es Salaam. When I finished college in 2009, I took on the full-time role of leading our U.S. operations, which largely meant raising the money to fund our work in East Africa. What started as a team of one stateside has now become a team of seven, and we have raised over $15M to date. We believe everyone should be able to live a life beyond AIDS, and we plan to serve 100,000 families living with HIV by 2028.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has been a challenging journey- nothing catastrophic has happened but we are consistently fighting an uphill battle. The greatest struggle is fighting against the lack of awareness and stigma against HIV that exists here in the U.S.

HIV hasn’t been in the headlines for a decade, so people wrongly believe the crisis is over. But, with nearly 2,000,000 new HIV infections each year, the work is far from finished. It’s one thing to educate someone about the state of the crisis, but what is even harder is getting someone to actually care. It’s a foreign disease to most people and many still hold on to prejudice against those who have it. As the public awareness of and commitment to support HIV has waned over the past decade, it makes our work that much more important but that much more difficult.

Please tell us about CARE for AIDS.
CARE for AIDS empowers people to live a life beyond AIDS. Our holistic approach to care for people living with HIV not only saves lives but also secures a client’s future as they are given the tools to live for another 25 to 30 years. This allows them to raise and educate their children. Whenever possible, we want to preserve families and prevent children from being orphaned. Our model is delivered through the local church because it is the most effective and discreet location to serve a population who has been highly stigmatized. Our clients join our program for a nine-month period where they receive care designed to help transform their lives physically, spiritually, emotionally, socially, and economically.

Over 13,000 graduates representing over 40,000 children have completed our program. As an organization, we are proud that our approach is designed and implemented by local staff in communities across Africa. In our opinion, this is the most healthy and sustainable way to create change.

There are a number of things that set us apart. The fact that our approach is so holistic including medical interventions, mental health care, and livelihood training, to name a few, is one distinctive. Also, it is unique that we only operate from within the local church, but this does not exclude people with different beliefs. We have people from all faith backgrounds in our program including 20% of our clients who are practicing Muslims.

Finally, I think our focus on: 1) parents, 2) HIV-positive clients only, and 3) urban slums also set us apart from other organizations who, in my observation, largely focus on 1) children, 2) general health interventions or poverty alleviation, and 3) rural communities. But, these unique qualities are important not because it gives us a competitive advantage but because it means we are not duplicating effort. We would welcome more organizations to do what we do because the need is very great.

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