Our story is still being told. Our beginnings come from a place of deepest devastation and incredible hope. Back then, we didn’t even know what to call AIDS. Known as a gay cancer, gay men were getting sick and dying in only a matter of weeks. Loved ones and friends were deteriorating before their very eyes. Vulnerable, sick people were being shunned and isolated.
It took a group of passionate, tough individuals to come together to help their community. They had no idea that they were the start of a movement and the start of our organization. These concerned individuals made it their mission to make sure that the most basic human needs were being met which included the need for food, support, connection and most of all – not dying alone.
In October 1983, the AIDS Calgary Awareness Association was born. Made up of only a few concerned Calgarians, they made it their mission to support those affected anyway that they could. They fought and advocated for people’s rights and got the community involved. Throughout Calgary, gay and lesbian businesses and individuals held events to raise funds for the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Drag shows were held at Detour to raise money for the condom fund and the staff and patrons of Money Pennies donated Christmas food hampers to clients while Boystown Metro helped to create a client living room at AIDS Calgary Awareness Association (ACAA) where people could go to be among peers and seek support.
In 1998, ACAA introduced a high profile gala event called “Calgary Cares,” which began as a fundraiser to aid in the establishment of the Calgary Cares Centre, a drop-in center for clients. The event quickly grew to become one of the most popular fundraising events in Calgary.
While much of ACAA’s early work took place solely in conjunction with the gay community, the 1990s also marked a turning point for the trajectory of HIV/AIDS risk groups. A greater number of women, heterosexuals, Aboriginals, endemic populations and intravenous drug users were being diagnosed with HIV. In response to this shift in the distribution of new infections, ACAA endeavored to adapt to the challenging face of the disease.
These amazing, dedicated people continued to evolve and expand the organization and services provided to clients and drop-in visitors alike. Community events opened the door for the development of programming that would serve people living with HIV/AIDS, as well as provide a platform for HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.
With the advances in medical technology and treatment, we have seen an incredible shift in the life expectancy for people living with HIV. People are no longer seeing their friends and loved ones die before them. Today we talk about people living. People living with HIV.
In 2013 AIDS Calgary Awareness Association rebranded, becoming HIV Community Link. Our name was changed to better reflect our current services that focus on health promotion, increasing access to testing, delivering effective harm reduction programs, and reducing the stigma associated with HIV. Calgary was removed from the name because we also offer programs and services in Medicine Hat and Brooks.
Our mission is wellness for individuals and communities affected by HIV and Hepatitis C through education, prevention and support.
Our vision is: Empowering choices. Engaging communities. Ending transmission.
Today we serve hundreds of people living with HIV, helping them to better understand their diagnosis and experience improved wellness and quality of life. Based on a philosophy of harm reduction, we meet clients where they are at free of judgment and help to improve their current situation.
Our prevention work is evidence based focusing on key target populations including Gay Men and MSM, Aboriginal Communities and African Communities. We educate service providers, community partners and the general population on technicalities of HIV while also advocating for people living with HIV. Our work is unique and built upon a strong foundation of prevention + support + advocacy put in place by a group of concerned Calgarians back in the 1980s.