Attallah Harris believes she’s continuing work her mother did. Harris’ mother worked with HIV patients until she retired. Her mother’s best friend died from AIDS in 1999, and Harris later discovered he worked at a company that became affiliated with RAIN Oklahoma before he died.
Now, Harris is an outreach caseworker with RAIN.
“I took it as a sign. It’s my calling,” she said.
RAIN — Regional Aids Intercommunity Network — provides compassionate support to members of the community who have been diagnosed with AIDs, are HIV-positive or are dealing with a wide range of other diseases.
The organization works with all age groups, including the elderly and disabled. Clients’ ages range from 6 months to 98 years.
“There are thousands of disabled individuals in the state of Oklahoma, but because (Medicaid) coverage wasn’t expanded, many of those aren’t served,” said Executive Director Julie Lovegrove.
RAIN’s Advantage Program is Medicare-funded, so clients must qualify for Medicaid coverage. The program helps with treatment of clients who are 65 and older, disabled adults and those who are 21 and under who have physical disabilities.
Clients in the Advantage Program receive assistance with many needs, including nursing and personal care, prescriptions, home-delivered meals and special medical needs or supplies.
Clients who qualify also may get assistance through the Ryan White Program. For someone without insurance, their monthly income must be below $1,915; with insurance, their income must be below $3,830.
The Ryan White Program was created in memory of a boy who after being diagnosed with HIV in the earlier years of its discovery, was ostracized from his classmates and friends.
Those accepted into this program are provided help with medical, dental, medication, transportation and housing services. Medical services and other needs are available for the patients, their care givers and children in the household.
Case workers, like Harris, are passionate about helping clients. Many directly or indirectly knew someone affected with AIDS or HIV.
“We’re here because our heart is driven to assist a population,” said Kathy Ackerman, RAIN’s Ryan White Program superviser.
Many case workers have worked with the clients for a number of years and have become familiar with each person on an individual basis.
“If a need isn’t being filled, they fill it,” Lovegrove said. “We are all very aware that there’s not a significant difference between our clients and us.”
All employees of RAIN Oklahoma understand the hardships and trials that clients are experiencing.
“We all have family or friends who are HIV positive,” she said.
Many of those who seek assistance are homeless and have experienced stigma within their own families and the community as a whole. A transitional living facility is available for such clients.
RAIN Oklahoma serves about 1,000 people in the 405 and 580 area codes of Oklahoma and has a satellite office in Lawton.
“In Oklahoma, we have over 5,000 living with HIV and AIDs,” Lovegrove said. “In the last five years, we have tried to increase the availability of testing for these individuals. There are probably 18 percent that are HIV-positive that don’t know. Across the country, probably 1 million people.”
Case workers also assist clients with enrolling in the new health care plan if they qualify. The impact of being able to receive proper medications is that it allows individuals to survive and to live, Lovegrove said.
“Our basic job is to coordinate services that are available in the community or through organizations for our clients,” Lovegrove said. “HIV is such a different disease than it was 30 years ago.”
Lovegrove believes that clients should be treated with the utmost respect and she is extremely proud of her staff.
“They are all crazy enough to believe that they can make a difference,” Lovegrove said. “I have some amazing staff and I am so grateful that they are here and have done this work as long as they have.”
Funding is decreasing rapidly as it has for many nonprofits, but there’s a great need for community support, she said. Most of the funding go directly to assisting clients. Only 10 percent of donations go to administrative costs, she said.
Most of the fundraising comes from private grants and donations, plus the Red Tie gala event in March that raises money for nonprofit organizations throughout the state of Oklahoma to help offset the costs of HIV and other services.
RAIN also gets help from the Oklahoma AIDs Care Fund and some contracts through the state Department of Health.
But “there is a great need for community support,” Lovegrove said. “We’ve been here since 1991. The last two years were the toughest that we have ever had.”
How to help
Donations to RAIN Oklahoma can be mailed to 5001 N Pennsylvania Ave., Suite 100, Oklahoma City, OK 73112. For more information, go to www.rainoklahoma.org or call 232-2437.