Providing a HAVEN for AIDS patients

Ella Mae O'Riley loves to water ski, is a student pilot and is quick to tell you that her greatest reward comes from being a volunteer buddy to a person with AIDS.

Ms. O'Riley volunteers to HIV/AIDS Volunteer Enrichment Network (HAVEN), a non-profit organization serving people who are HIV-positive and their loved ones in Anne Arundel County.


The county Department of Health currently has a caseload of 90 people who have tested HIV-positive, according to Suzanne Ochs, a nurse with the department's Case Management Services division.

According to Evelyn Stein, public affairs director for Anne Arundel County, there have been 143 cases of AIDS confirmed in the county since 1982; of those, 35 were reported within the last 12 months.


HAVEN volunteers act as buddies, advocates, counselors, emergency baby-sitters and as speakers to inform the community about the disease.

"We are just one year old and like other agencies which help people with AIDS, we offer long-term one-on-one support and short-term support," Ms. O'Riley says. "We've trained 46 long-term volunteers who will get a buddy and offer support" for the infected person's entire life, she adds.

"And, we've trained 21 short-term volunteers who are on call to help with transportation, shopping, cooking, visiting in the hospital and such. We have served 42 PWAs [people with AIDS] and nine have died," says Ms. O'Riley, who has worked for Baltimore Gas & Electric in the merchandise department at Lexington Street in Baltimore for 10 years.

BG&E; encourages its employees to participate in volunteer work, according to Ms. O'Riley, and the company gave her a volunteer of the year award last year.

The Severna Park resident -- she does her water skiing near home and takes her flying lessons in Harford county -- volunteered to HERO, Health Education Resource Organization, for three years and drove to Baltimore to volunteer as a buddy. Last year she switched to HAVEN, which is closer to her area.

"My interest in volunteering to PWAs began because my own son is gay but mainly because of the anguish and heartbreak I felt over the way a community shunned the young AIDS victim Ryan White," she says. "Something tugged at me and I've been involved in helping and trying to educate the public ever since."

HAVEN also offers group and individual support for families of PWAs.

"And we have a support group for the volunteers. Burnout is so prevalent among those in this work," she says. "We must learn to play and not over-extend. You meet a buddy and have a nice simple and pleasant friendship but you worry. I've lost two buddies; one I had for 16 months and while I am still friends with his family, I'll have a hard time getting over that. At present I have a buddy who has been HIV-positive for seven years and that's very encouraging," says Ms. O'Riley, who is single and has three grown children.


References to HAVEN come from different sources but predominantly from the Anne Arundel County Department of Health. For case management information from the county, call Suzanne Ochs, (410) 222-7109.

To volunteer or to get help from HAVEN, call its coordinator, Joyce Wearstler, (410) 269-8064 or write HAVEN, P.O. Box 4099, Annapolis, 21403.