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In 1992, the human immunodeficiency virus, also known as HIV, was at its peak and, if contracted, was seen as a death sentence. When left untreated, the disease is formally classified as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS.
That same year, members of the United Methodist Church founded Rain (then Regional AIDS Interfaith Network) of Central Missouri. These church members organized care teams to work with individual patients who were diagnosed with this disease. The teams provided transportation to doctor appointments, food, bedside company and more to ensure that patients died with dignity and were surrounded with care. However, as the disease started to change, the organization changed as well.
Today, the focus is no longer only to help patients dying of AIDS, but also to support individuals living with HIV or AIDS, which is possible thanks to medical advancements. Rain’s goal is to be the region’s prevention resource, focusing on education, early detection and compassionate care.
“It’s really an amazing story and has totally evolved from our beginnings,” says Echo Menges, Rain board chairwoman. “The religious aspect has now turned over to health.”
Rain’s central office is located in Columbia at 1123 Wilkes Blvd., Suite 250. Their team consists of 14 full-time staff members. Rain offers a wide range of resources for people living with HIV or AIDS, including prevention programs, free testing and more.
“I think the most important thing we do as an agency is increase awareness,” Menges says. “It gets put on the back burner in a lot of people’s minds and the attention gets shifted away from HIV/AIDS, but people are still getting the virus.”
One of Rain’s largest services is their case management team. Rain received its first case management contract under the Ryan White Care Act in 1998, a federal legislation supporting AIDS patients. Shortly after the bill passed, Rain hired their first two case managers, hiring additional case managers as their client number increased. Today, the organization has a total of nine case managers to help serve a total of 336 clients. The case management team covers 37 counties, and about 90 percent of clients are from Columbia.
Rain can assist clients with financial assistance; medications and doctors; treatment or medication management; and housing.
In 2002, Rain’s housing program was implemented to provide monetary assistance to clients, including rent, utilities, emergency repairs and more. The organization expanded their housing services in 2004, after an existing apartment building was renovated, and now provides housing to eligible clients through the city’s Shelter Plus Program. In 2012, Rain secured a contract with Doorways, an AIDS housing program, to include housing assistance and referrals for 29 counties in the southwest region of the state.
Rain Executive Director Cale Mitchell has dedicated 14 years to helping people infected by HIV/AIDS in the community.
Mitchell says the Rain case management team can help those in need quickly. One couple relocated from New York to Columbia to live with relatives; the two were illegal immigrants, with three children all under the age of three. Once their relatives got news of their HIV-positive diagnosis, the relatives threw out the family, along with all of their belongings, leaving them homeless.
After seeking help from Rain, the family was given transportation assistance to get to and from work. The family was also given housing, food, furniture, medical care, diapers, clothing and more.
“The case manager accomplished all of these things within a five-day span,” Mitchell says. “It is those types of activities that inspire me. We were able to stabilize a family within our own community. Without our intervention, we don’t know where they would have been.”
Mitchell noted that these are the kinds of successes that translate to community impacts.
“We prevented homelessness, got people working — it is truly amazing to see all of that come together,” Mitchell says.
Aside from the case management program, Rain also has a Prevention Education program. In 2003, Rain expanded this program’s services to provide off-site presentations, testing and other related information. Rain provides HIV testing, along with STD and STI testing, free of charge.
Mitchell describes one of the biggest myths about people who have been infected with HIV.
“I think one of the biggest myths is the disease only affects one certain kind of person,” Mitchell says. “The disease can range from the 17-year-old kid with risk behavior to the 70-year-old woman who contracted the disease from her husband. Many people in this community living with the disease have stable, highly responsible jobs. It is not a one-size-fits-all, it can literally be anyone.”