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Local AIDS organization needs volunteers

The Tampa Bay AIDS Network (TBAN) is in dire need of volunteers to help in its North Tampa offices. There are few restrictions to becoming a TBAN volunteer, and almost anyone can after taking a two-hour training course.

Volunteers founded TBAN in 1985. It began as a small pantry with one person handing out condoms in the community. Today, the organization’s three offices serve more than 1,000 clients in the Tampa Bay area.

TBAN offers several services to people whose lives are affected by HIV or AIDS. Services include case management programs for individuals affected by the virus, a supplemental food pantry, housing programs and mental health services. The organization also works with the families and friends of those infected with HIV or AIDS.

TBAN also works to promote community education about the virus in Tampa Bay. Some awareness programs include condom distribution among high-risk populations and free, anonymous HIV testing. The organization is seeking volunteers to assist with any of the programs. Volunteer duties differ, depending on what needs to be done at the office, but generally include answering phones, clerical duties such as filing and organizing paperwork, food pantry assistance and help with special projects run by TBAN.

Vivian Candelaria, program manager for TBAN, said volunteers are needed because the organization is underfunded and understaffed. TBAN cannot to afford to hire assistants, so the network must rely on volunteers to help it succeed.

Candelaria, a USF graduate who has worked for TBAN since 1992, said TBAN would not be able to serve the community if it weren’t for volunteers.

“We’re very thankful for all of our volunteers,” she said.

She also said volunteering helps students who are majoring in areas associated with social work decide if this kind of work is what they would like to pursue as a career. She said that volunteering encourages people to see problems associated with HIV and AIDS in the community and to think about possible solutions.

“It gives the community an opportunity to help others and to give back,” she said.

Candelaria also mentioned that some professors give class credit for volunteering at organizations such as TBAN.

Jessica Barfield, a USF senior majoring in psychology, volunteers at TBAN as an assignment for her HIV and AIDS Seminar class and said it is rewarding to know that she is actually doing something good for people. She volunteers at least three hours a week.

“They’re really in need of help,” Barfield said.

TBAN is always in need of volunteers, but the organization is especially seeking volunteers at this time to help in the pantry. Candelaria said an ideal number of volunteers per week would be about 35. At this time, the organization gets between 10 and 20 volunteers a week.

For those who would like to help the organization but cannot donate their time, Candelaria recommended educating others about HIV and AIDS prevention and being open-minded toward helping members of the community who have the disease. She said people can also help by advocating for more funding and by practicing a non-judgmental attitude toward HIV and AIDS in their community.

Volunteers are needed between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. every day, and are also needed to answer phones during anonymous HIV testing the second Tuesday of each month until 9 p.m. and on Thursdays until 8 p.m.

Orientation programs for volunteers are held the second Tuesday of each month, from 10 a.m. to noon. Volunteers are taught about HIV and AIDS and decide with which programs they would like to work. Those who are interested in more information about volunteering for TBAN can contact the organization’s North Tampa office at 983-3333. The office is located at 7402 N. 56th St., Suite 101.

Contact Whitney Meersat