Thursday, April 17, 2008

You are not alone...

By Thomas Henning

Growing up in a small New England town, I had a privileged childhood. I grew up in a small town where everyone knew each other.

As a young child, Phil, the owner of the local grocery store, would always ask me how I was or acknowledge me for something that I was involved in. Mary, an elderly woman who lived on the street I walked every morning to school, would always leave a bowl of water and plate of food for my dog, Fuzzy (yes, Fuzzy). Then there was Chief Brodley, a family friend, who would come into my family’s restaurant and make sure that everything was okay when he knew my brother and I were working.

One day my family got the call that every one fears. My brother had been in a car accident on his way to school and was killed. My family was devastated. My parents could barely function and my brothers and I were old enough to understand but not equipped to make all the necessary decisions. The people in my small town, both friends and associates, came together. They were there every step of the process, never intrusive and always supportive.

From a very young age, I understood the power of community. Community has the ability to help make a person feel whole and part of something larger than themselves. Community has the power to be present during the laughter and the tears of a person’s life. Community can rally around a person on the brink, stand beside them, walk through the fire with them, and successfully come out the other side.

I think it is that sense of community that Cable Positive’s Employee Assistance Fund, administered through The Actors’ Fund, provides that makes it so powerful for people.

People like Tanya, a 52-year old woman living with HIV since 1997. Since 2000, she has worked as an Advertising Coordinator for a cable company in northern California. She is a single mother with three children (ages 14, 16, and 21), and has been able to support herself and her children for most of the duration of her experience with HIV.

Still, she has battled several periods of severe illness, requiring two applications for short-term disability assistance through the State of California. In the more recent case, she was hospitalized several times over three years for meningitis and finally had to apply for help. Both times, the Fund was able to help her financially while her claim was being evaluated by the State.

This assistance from Cable Positive prevented her eviction in both circumstances, first in 2003 and again in 2006. Her social worker at The Actors' Fund advocated with her landlord throughout the process each time, and has helped her establish a more stable relationship with the management company. The Fund has also has stepped in occasionally to provide Tanya with food vouchers from a local grocery store so that she can buy food for her family during periods of unusual financial stress.

Community is a powerful thing. I think the employees of the cable industry really understand that. You can see it in the work of Cable Positive’s chapters. You can see it in the partnerships that develop through the Tony Cox Community Fund. Most importantly, you can feel it when you talk to people in both the HIV/AIDS Community and the cable industry who share with me why they are committed to Cable Positive’s mission to address HIV/AIDS.

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