October 7, 2002 - The Winchester Star: Peace Corps Stint Led RPCV Zelda Uttal to Career in AIDS Education

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Peace Corps Stint Led RPCV Zelda Uttal to Career in AIDS Education

Read and comment on this story from the Winchester Star on RPCV Zelda Uttal whose service in West Africa in the early 1980's where she saw a fellow Peace Corps volunteer contract the disease led her to a career in AIDS Education at:

Peace Corps Stint Led to Career in AIDS Education*

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Peace Corps Stint Led to Career in AIDS Education

By Dan Reany

The Winchester Star

While living in West Africa, Zelda Uttal’s life was touched by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, when a fellow Peace Corps volunteer contracted the disease.

Twenty years later, Uttal’s executive director of the local AIDS Response Effort.

Her friend, who was infected in 1981, died in 1985.

After a year back in the United States, Uttal returned to West Africa, where for the next five years she “virtually saw the epidemic enter the country.”

“When I came back to the states in 1990, I had a different consciousness about AIDS. In Africa, it was not a homosexual disease. In the United States, everyone was pointing fingers at homosexual people. It infects everybody.”

When she was working as a substitute teacher, Uttal saw a job ad for a part-time educator. She took the job and served as ARE’s education and outreach coordinator for eight years until she became its executive director Aug. 1.

When Uttal joined ARE, the organization had 20 clients. “I attended 12 funerals that year. The next year was nine, the next 6. Then the new medications and the ‘cocktails’ came out.”

People with HIV/AIDS can take 18 to 20 or more pills per day, Uttal said. “The new medications dramatically decreased the number of deaths. This year I’ve only had two funerals. Last year there was one, and the year before that there was one.”

ARE’s client base has grown to 65, “comparable to Charlottesville,” Uttal said. “We’re getting more and more women, minorities, and younger people.”

ARE provides financial and supportive services to people with HIV/AIDS in the Lord Fairfax Planning District, which includes Winchester and Frederick, Clarke, Warren, Shenandoah, and Page counties.

“We’ve done such good education programs in prisons, substance abuse programs, and elsewhere that we’re getting more and more clients.”

New oral HIV tests allow ARE workers to test individuals themselves, on the spot. “We’ll go to them. At the end of a presentation, we find a private room and offer to test people. We hit them with the education and offer them a chance to look at their behavior, step up, and take responsibility for their own lives.” Out of 287 people who have stepped up, three tested positive.

Located at the former hospital at 333 W. Cork St., ARE is supported by Valley Health System, which provides the organization office space, phone service, and more. Salaries are paid through grants and community support. ARE’s annual budget is roughly $250,000.

ARE recently received an $18,500 capacity building grant from the Virginia Department of Health. The funds will be used to upgrade equipment and buy new computers, comfortable chairs for clients, a video camera for presentations, a Powerpoint projector, and a photocopier.

“One of the major goals now is to get out in the community and get even more education out there,” Uttal said.

For more information about AIDS Response Effort, call Uttal at (540) 536-5291.

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