A look inside the journey of a leading and pioneering nonprofit, highlighting the importance of community involvement, education, and the ongoing efforts to combat stigma and enhance public health strategies.

In this learning episode, we welcomed Stacey Jay Cavaliere, the executive director of Aunt Rita’s Foundation, to discuss the ongoing challenges and initiatives related to HIV and AIDS. Stacey Jay shares his personal and professional journey with HIV, elaborating on the importance of community support and education in combating the epidemic.

Stacey Jay Cavaliere, who joined Aunt Rita’s Foundation after a transformative personal experience with HIV, describes the evolution of the organization from its humble beginnings in 1988 during the height of the HIV crisis. He details how a grassroots movement born out of necessity led to the establishment of a vital community resource. Aunt Rita’s Foundation began as a local effort with bake sales and fundraisers in gay bars to support those affected by AIDS, eventually gaining nonprofit status in 2005. “Our first bake sale in 1988 raised over $5,000, which was extraordinary at that time. Those funds were crucial for covering rent, medication costs, and, unfortunately, some funeral costs as well,” as Stacey Jay reflects on the early days.

The conversation also peers into how Aunt Rita’s Foundation has adapted to the significant advancements in HIV medication and treatment. Stacey Jay shares the foundation’s role in education and outreach, underscoring the shift from crisis response to long-term health management and prevention. “The good news is that there have been great advancements in medication, treatment, and outreach,” he says, outlining the foundation’s efforts to spread knowledge and resources across communities.

With host Julia Patrick, the two also discuss the challenge of overcoming stigma, which remains a substantial barrier to HIV prevention and treatment. Stacey Jay points to the importance of continuous education and advocacy to change public perceptions and policies surrounding HIV and AIDS. “It’s my duty now to give back to the community. To lift up those most marginalized and most affected,” he shares.

This episode showcases the historical and ongoing efforts of Aunt Rita’s Foundation to tackle HIV and AIDS and serves as a powerful reminder of the impact of community-driven initiatives in addressing public health crises.