Pride spilled off a small porch on Chapel Street as New Haveners gathered to celebrate the past and the future of APNH – formerly AIDS Project New Haven, newly rechristened “A Place to Nourish your Health.”
Chris Cole, executive director of APNH, announced the new name at an event held Saturday to commemorate the organization’s 35th birthday.
Because of the gradual evolution of an HIV/AIDS diagnosis from a death sentence to a livable condition, and after two years of planning, the center will now open its doors to all underserved individuals in the New Haven area, not only to those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
The mission is to “provide services for those who face stigma or challenges in receiving culturally competent care,” according to the organization’s new website, launched just two hours before the 8 a.m. gathering.
With behavioral health care, case management, nutrition, and pharmacy and prevention services, Cole said, “we treat people in their entirety – their body, mind, and spirit.”
He said the group wants people to “know they have a place to nourish their health, they have a place to get tested, they have a place to be themselves, they have a place to be proud, they have a place to make friends, they have a place to build community.”
Present at the event were APNH staff and clients as well as local, state, and federal officials including Mayor Toni Harp, State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, New Haven State Rep. Pat Dillon, and US Rep. Rosa DeLauro.
“Back in the late eighties and early nineties, I was a baby gay,” Lembo told the crowd assembled before the porch, as he reflected on the AIDS epidemic. Everyone laughed.
“Too soon?” Lembo responded with a chuckle.
Then he returned to reflection. “We were watching our community devastated by a virus that the power structure didn’t want to deal with, and it felt many times like disposable populations. The president of the United States wouldn’t speak the word ‘AIDS’; The New York Times wouldn’t print the word or a story about what it really meant.
“And then fast forward, to when the gay community and people of color came together, because infection was crossing across our communities. There was this moment where it was like, ‘We’re stronger together.’”
Harp, who mentioned her own childhood struggle with polio, said she never had to deal with the extreme stigma that those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS have faced. She credited APNH for “waging that battle day after day, year after year.”
To both remember this history and forge new community bonds, the staff of the organization has decided to maintain its acronym as it widens its mission. “[APNH is] how we’re known in the community,” said Cole. “That’s who we’ve been for 35 years – but let’s build on that.”