By Ariele Vaccaro
When it broke that the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin (BHCW) would lose 80 percent of its funding — funding used to help African American mothers — Milwaukee was left stunned.
Without the grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), BHCW would have to shut down a 17-year-old program, the Milwaukee Healthy Beginnings Project.
“It’s just tragic for Milwaukee,” said BHCW Director of Communications Clarene Mitchell in an interview with the Milwaukee Courier last September.
It’s been about seven months since the HRSA declined to renew the grant for $750,000.
The organization has faced layoffs and programming cuts.
Some childbearing age women who once took advantage of BHCW’s services were dropped as a cost-cutting measure.
But according to Jim Addison, coordinator for BHCW’s African-American HIV and AIDS program, the organization is still maintaining its 25-year-long reputation as a trusted center for the community’s health.
“The fact that we’re still here is a success,” said Addison.
That’s not the organization’s only triumph over the adversity that struck it last fall. BHCW is still offering a number of other services aimed at improving the health of Wisconsin’s African-American communities.
In a city that maintains five times the statewide rate of HIV/AIDS, proactive services are a must, especially for those that can’t normally afford them.
Addison’s team is training faith leaders and volunteers on how to educate others on the diseases.
They train some 100 participants per year through workshops.
Others, like CEO Dr. Pat McManus, run programs such as Sisters Informing Sisters on Topics of AIDS/ HIV (SISTA). During intervention sessions, instructors address factors that may lead into behaviors that put women at risk for HIV and AIDS.
Graduates of the program meet once per year to discuss they steps they’ve taken to reduce their risk of contracting the diseases.
“We’re trying to change the paradigm in a person’s thinking and decision making process,” said Addison.
BCHW has been reaching into its own pocket on some occasions in order to cover services that grants funds once covered.
McManus has also applied to be able to bill some services to Medicaid for clients.
She’s even been working to acquire other grants in order to make up the loss of the HRSA’s.
Since the grant that funded the Milwaukee Healthy Beginnings is now offered competitively, BHCW won’t be able to reapply for another five years.
But, despite the unexpected challenge that beset BHCW only months ago, the organization is still thriving and looking forward to many more years as a beacon of health for those who need it.