January 27, 1998
by Nicole Youngman
Mobile AIDS Support Services (MASS) was founded in 1987 to address the needs of people living with HIV/AIDS in Mobile, and is the only AIDS-specific agency in southwest Alabama. Last year the organization provided assistance to over 550 people in seven surrounding counties. While the organization has a highly dedicated paid staff, they also rely heavily on volunteers to help ensure that services are provided to those who need them.
Volunteer coordinator John Gordon receives requests from area social workers whose clients need a variety of assistance. His most crucial present need is finding people to deliver meals through MASS' Meals on Wheels program to clients who are unable to cook for themselves. The job is time-consuming, and Gordon states it is difficult to find and keep people who are willing to perform the much-needed task of taking thousands of meals every year to their neediest clients all over Mobile County. About 8 to 9 meals per volunteer are delivered around lunchtime, and on weekdays drivers are particularly hard to come by. Gordon would like to be able to drop the number to 3 to 4 meals per driver in order to allow the volunteers to have some time to get to know their clients.
Other transportation needs are pressing as well. Clients often need drivers to take them to doctors' appointments or to help them run errands. Others need help moving into new housing, both for transporting their belongings and for doing heavy lifting and other physical tasks. MASS had also had difficulty finding someone with a truck to help them pick up furniture donations around the area and transport them to their clients' housing. Many clients need help around the homes, both for themselves and their children; respite sitters are needed to help clients who are too physically weak to care for themselves, and single mothers are in frequent need of baby-sitters.
Talents of all sorts are needed around MASS' Dauphin Street office as well. Housing coordinator Fran Johnson would love more help with the paperwork that piles up from the agency's heavy caseload, and Resource Development Coordinator Michael Mitchell expressed a 'desperate" need for someone to come and help network their computers. Assistance with grounds keeping and general office work would also be greatly appreciated.
Volunteers at MASS go through an orientation seminar that explains the agency, case management, and provide information about HIV/AIDS. They are required to sign a pledge to respect clients' confidentiality and abide by agency regulations. Gordon states that while it is relatively easy to find volunteers to help out with special events such as Big Guns, the Alabama AIDS Walk, or the Parisian Manhours Fashion Show, finding people who are willing to make long- term commitments is considerably more difficult. "A lot of people out there are feeling immensely lonely and bewildered" as they attempt to deal with their families and daily responsibilities as they fight this disease, he says. Regular volunteer work "is not so big and glorious, it's not like running to the scene of an accident and saving everybody."
Upcoming events at MASS include a yard sale, the third annual Big Guns dance party at the Battleship, tentatively scheduled for May 2, and a candlelight memorial on May 17. MASS is also working with Penelope House and the USA Children's and Women's Hospital on a February 28 raffle of "Princess Bear" Beanie Babies that were created in memory of Princess Diana. Anyone interested in further information can contact MASS at 471-5277 or access their web site at http://www.masshelps.org/.