m4maidsBy Emily Foxx, Lifestyles Editor

Mystery Disease

In the 1980’s, people started to come down with a strange illness. Initially, the malady appeared to be singling out gay men and IV drug users. As the sickness continued to spread, some began to call it “gay cancer.” The symptoms; fever, sore throat, fatigue accompanied by head, joint and muscle pain, caused may to describe it as “the worst flu ever.” Then the swelling of the glands and the sudden appearance of a strange rash would send the victims running to the emergency room.

While doctors scratched their heads, scrambling for any treatment that may work, the symptoms would increase. Now these patients were experiencing rapid weight loss, fever with night sweats and diarrhea that would last for more than a week at a time.

As more people started to show signs and symptoms, and the ways to acquire the illness became more diverse, the original term for the disease, GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) was replaced with AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) in 1982. In September of that same year, the Centers for Disease Control began referring to the disease as AIDS as well.

The men, women, and now children, who were developing this condition, were not quite so concerned with the terminology as they were with the symptoms; which now included prolonged swelling of the lymph glands in the armpits, groin, or neck. In addition, victims were discovering sores in their mouths and around their anus and genitals.

Most sufferers would eventually end up dying from an extreme case of pneumonia.

In 1986, researchers gave the virus that was causing AIDS a name, HIV. The name came about after two independent research groups came to different conclusions, which turned out to be not quite so different after all. Both research groups had isolated a virus that was wreaking havoc on the patient’s immune system. It turned out that “both” viruses were indeed one in the same. The research that led to the name HIV had started in 1983.

Vital Statistics
• AIDS is one of the top ten causes of death among people ages 15 to 44
• Every minute of every day, five people are infected with HIV
• 40 million adults and children are living with HIV/AIDS right now
• AIDS has already claimed more than 20 million lives
• 40 percent of all HIV-positive people don’t know they are infected

Aids Project of the Ozarks

Also in 1983, a couple thousand miles away from the epicenter of the epidemic, a group of concerned citizens began meeting in a local church in Springfield, Missouri. At the heart of these gatherings, they discussed ways to assist affected people who were returning home to Springfield.

To die.

Indeed, all across the U.S., people with AIDS were returning to their home towns to die as peaceably as possible. The stigma surrounding the disease, accompanied by rampant paranoia, caused the people suffering from the virus to become outcasts. Ignorance as to how one might acquire the illness bordered on hysteria.

Meanwhile, the AIDS Project of Springfield was addressing the matter head on. By giving emotional, as well as practical support to the increasing numbers of those affected, the AIDS Project soon found the task almost overwhelming. Seeing how wide-spread the need was becoming in the area, the group eventually changed their name to AIDS Project of the Ozarks (APO), and incorporated in 1985. Since that time, APO has been providing HIV care and prevention services to 29 counties in Southwest Missouri.

Today, APO serves approximately 600 HIV positive clients per year, provides HIV testing to over 700 individuals, and provides prevention materials to 10,000 people yearly. APO provides a variety of services, including but not limited to, HIV Counseling and Testing, Case Management and Medical Care/Clinic Services.

Every winter holiday season, APO hosts the Client Holiday Party for the clients and their families and friends. Food, entertainment, and Santa are provided. Clients are encouraged to complete and APO Holiday Application if they would like their children or grandchildren to receive gifts from Santa. Gifts can also be given to those children who do not attend the party. They also host the annual Red Ribbon Ride, which will be held this year on Saturday May 17, 2014.

Since those early days of AIDS, science has come along ways in treating individuals living with the virus. Advancements in treatments are allowing people to live full and productive lives. However, due to the nature of the illness and the expense associated with treatment, many of these people suffer from lack of the bare necessities of life. Items that many of us take for granted, like shampoo, bath soap and toilet paper, are things that often times do not fit into the AIDS patient’s budget.

APO has stepped up to offer assistance in that area as well with their Client Pantry. It is APO’s goal to have these pantries stocked with personal care items, as well as house cleaning items. Many APO clients receive food stamps, but the above mentioned items are obviously not available with an EBT card. In order to keep the pantry stocked, APO is dependent upon donations. This keeps the supplies very limited and the availability varies.

Today, the Joplin, Missouri pantry is bare.

The good news is, YOU can help turn that around.

Benefit Concert and Auction

On Saturday, April 12th, the Blackthorn Pizza and Pub at 510 South Joplin Avenue in Joplin will be the scene of a concert and an auction to benefit APO. Admission to the benefit is either a $5 donation at the door, or a pantry item.

Items needed include, shampoo and conditioner, dish soap, tooth brushes and tooth paste, Paper towels, disposable razors and shaving crème, laundry soap, hand and body soap, band-aids, deodorant, toilet tissue, hand and body lotion, bleach….the list goes on. Take a look around your own home and ask yourself, “What do I need to survive?”

The evening’s festivities began at 6pm. Currently on the line-up to perform are “Sounds of Quincy”, “Molotov Latte”, “Zero 2 Panic”, Alex Scimeca of “Conway Jackson” and John Thomas of “Tailgaterz” with his extremely talented daughter.

The benefit will be the third one this year to be presented by “Musicians for Miracles” which has been presenting benefits since 2010. Last year “Musicians for Miracles”, a 501 (c) (3) charity raised right at $50,000.00 to benefit area people in need. The organization stages benefits to assist individuals with a variety of health issues and other related expenses. Unlike many charitable organizations, 100% of all money raised goes directly to the person needing help. You can visit the “Musicians For Miracles” Facebook page by clicking here.

For more information on the benefit, and other ways you can help, contact LaRenda Jackson at 417-501-9340 or email

Click here for the Facebook event page.

Learn more about APO by clicking here.

Finally, I would like to leave you with APO’s status which was posted on Facebook on January 1st of this year: “Happy New Year and welcome to 2014! What are your resolutions?? We resolve to work diligently to care for those living with HIV/AIDS and to work to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS in our beloved community. Peace and love to you all, on this first day of 2014!”

THAT, says it all.
Joseph Johnson and Nash Williams contributed to this story.