By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In 2007, Dale Pierce and Edward Harrell, who now are married, hosted a Christmas party at their Huntersville home for 250 to 300 people, asking guests to bring a donation to support the purchase of food or medicine for people living with HIV or AIDS.
Last January, Pierce launched Different Roads Home, a Huntersville nonprofit that provides a range of support services for HIV/AIDS patients and that grew out of the food pantry the couple’s annual holiday party has supported ever since.
The idea for Different Roads Home grew out of Pierce’s work as a financial consultant for Rosedale Infectious Diseases, a clinic in Huntersville that serves HIV/AIDS patients, works with AIDS clinics in the greater Charlotte region, and is a sponsor of the nonprofit.
While the clinics provide medical services, he says, the patients still need other services and support.
“A lot of the organizations do not have either the staff or resources to provide anything other than the medical component,” he says.
Operating with an annual budget of $750,000, Different Roads Home employs four people and serves about 150 clients.
Through its Jeanne White Ginder Food Pantry, the nonprofit refers clients to local food agencies; gives gifts cards from local groceries to clients who cannot afford transportation to food agencies; provides new clients with information packets about healthy eating based on the stage of their disease and the medicines they are taking; and provides clients with vitamins or nutritional resources it buys or receives as donations.
The pantry is named for the mother of the late Ryan White, an Indiana teen who was kicked out of middle school because of his infection and became the national face of HIV/AIDS advocacy. She was the keynote speaker at the Charlotte AIDS Walk in 2008, when Pierce co-chaired the event.
The Charlotte Barmans Fund, a group of bartenders from two uptown Charlotte bars who choose a charity each month to receive items they buy with the tips they make on a specific evening, contributed vitamins they purchased with $1,000 in tips.
Different Roads Home raised $7,500 at its 4th Annual Evening of Hope and Inspiration on November 23.
The group also provides guest speakers and holds support and discussion groups for people with HIV/AIDS that focus on topics such as nutrition, adherence to prescribed medications, changes in health care laws, and living wills.
And in June it launched a program that matches patients who are newly diagnosed or struggling with HIV/AIDS with mentors who have experience living with the disease. It trains the mentors, who then work to help the patients stay on track with their health care.
In 2014, Different Roads Home plans to launch a campaign to raise awareness about its work with the estimated 15 or more clinics in a six-county region that serve HIV/AIDS patients and encourage the clients to refer their clients to it for support.
In the fiscal year ended last February 28, Mecklenburg County received federal funding through the Ryan White Act to support care for over 2,700 HIV/AIDS patients in the region who lack private insurance, or Medicare or Medicaid coverage, Pierce says.
Different Roads Home also is considering providing similar support services for patients with other chronic illnesses such as heart disease or cancer.
“We know the road home is different for everyone,” Pierce says. “We’re just trying to make it easier.”