World AIDS Day Fundraiser at Body Positive

Eric Rodriguez brings dynamic, client-friendly approach to AIDS service organization

Eric Rodriguez, like most people living with HIV and AIDS, has a complex relationship with the word “positive.” Having lived with the virus since October of 2000, Rodriguez knows first hand that the task of educating oneself about options and maintaining a positive outlook in the face of a life-threatening illness can seem formidable to say the least.

Body Positive was founded in 1987 by the late Michael Hirsch, who was also one of the founders of the People With AIDS Coalition (PWAC), an early AIDS outreach program, which has since merged with Body Positive. Frustrated by the bureaucratic structure of PWAC and as well as what he regarded as the inefficiency of similar AIDS agencies, Hirsch envisioned an organization more directly linked to and active within the community.

This vision materialized as Body Positive, Inc., in the form of peer-led educational forums and support groups which continually expanded over the years to address the specific needs and circumstances of the diverse groups affected by HIV and AIDS. Since 1987, the group has published Body Positive magazine.

Hirsch died of AIDS in 1989, but his vision remains very much alive today.

Three years ago, while working as a project director at the Center for HIV/AIDS Educational Studies and Training (CHEST), Rodriguez was introduced to a member of the Board of Directors at Body Positive, who encouraged him to become involved. The result was that Rodriguez served on the organization’s board for three years, until July of this year when he was appointed executive director.

Rodriguez’s immediate goal for the organization is twofold: first, to revamp and rebuild, and then to increase visibility and outreach.

“In my first four months here, we’ve completely overhauled the infrastructure,” said Rodriguez.

Due to some poor management issues in recent years, the condition of the organization suffered, which in turn led to a lack of presence in the community. For that reason, Rodriguez has focused thus far on the agency’s fundamental needs, such as new computer and phone systems, setting up advertising budgets, and renovating and updating the agency’s website.

Next on Rodriguez’s agenda is to improve visibility.

One step toward achieving that second goal is “Blades Against AIDS,” a fundraiser scheduled for World AIDS Day, December 1, at the Sky Rink ice skating arena at Chelsea Piers. Rodriguez hopes that because of its relaxed nature the event will stand out from others taking place on World AIDS Day.

“The message of World AIDS Day tends to be a very somber one. We wanted to change that,” said Rodriguez.

The idea was born out of a combination of Rodriguez’s membership with the New York City Gay Hockey Association and his desire to reintroduce Body Positive’s presence during the annual AIDS commemoration in a new and exciting way. The organization hopes to attract between 400 and 500 people for a night of skating and socializing and raise around $20,000. In addition to the ice skating between 7 and 8 p.m. with the boys of the NYC Gay Hockey Association’s calendar, the evening will include an open bar provided by Posh, and food prepared by the acclaimed restaurant Philip Marie, all donated free of charge.

As part of his rebuilding, Rodriguez says that his next task is to create specific programs that will “push Body Positive to meet the goals of the community.”

Some programs in the organization’s immediate future include a support group for HIV-positive women, a smoking cessation group, and an HIV and Hepatitis co-infection group. Other services Rodriguez hopes to implement include establishing a telephone help line, and setting up other community outreach, education, and support services.

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More information about Body Positive, Inc.

and the Blades Against AIDS event

is available at bodypos.org

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