By Andy Smith
“She was the Cher of HIV Prevention in Maine,” says David-Anthony Curtis, describing Gloria Leach, the 76-year old grandmother who over the last decade made a vital difference to this 24-year-old organization. Grants from BC/EFA ($5,000 in 2009) have been supporting AAP’s prevention efforts for several years.
Gloria passed away in December, and her final contribution to the agency she loved may prove to be one of her greatest: changing its name from the confusing Merrymeeting AIDS Support Services to the punchier and far more direct All About Prevention.
And preventing HIV transmission was this local icon’s mission. “Everybody in the community knew Gloria (pictured). She was a practicing Catholic, but if she opened her purse in church, condoms would fly out,” says Curtis, currently acting executive director and AAP’s men’s health specialist. “She advocated for safe sex education in schools, bars, even the outdoor areas where men met for anonymous sex.”
This icon’s legacy is impressive. “She was a nurse and she had been working with HIV-positive patients from the beginning, when no one knew what it was, even before the virus was called GRID,” explains Curtis.
The forward-thinking Leach was behind many of this small town organization’s progressive initiatives, including prevention education initiatives in colleges, high schools and even middle schools. The mother of a developmentally disabled daughter, in 2000 she initiated a “Safer Sex Club” for developmentally challenged individuals, providing them with HIV prevention education, risk assessment and harm reduction.
In Gloria’s absence, Curtis has a lot on his plate. Despite a staff of only twofull-time employees, AAP recently annexed Just Guys, the men’s health organization in Augusta. Meanwhile, AAP remains the only agency in Maine to specialize solely in HIV prevention, providing an array of educational, support and effective referral services across several counties. These include anonymous HIV/AIDS counseling, testing, referral services and comprehensive HIV/STD/HCV prevention education, including outreach in Brunswick and Lewiston-area bars.
What’s next for 2010? “Outreach in nursing homes, an effort Gloria definitely supported,” says Curtis. “People don’t think about the elderly and AIDS, but the virus is spreading in that community. They need to be educated about condom use, which wasn’t necessarily a concern when they first became sexually active.”