A non-profit is started with someone who has a passion for the cause, a population that needs help, and a vacuum for services that needs to be filled. The mission of a non-profit is challenged when the recipients are camera shy, volunteers are hard to come by and donors can’t understand the need.
God will provide
This is the situation that Brothers and Sisters of Mercy in the Sutter -Yuba county of California faces. To borrow a sailing term, they are locked in irons without enough wind from either direction to make meaningful progress. However, this hasn’t stopped Fr. Jeanathana-Michelle Hunter Beck from forging forward as the eternal optimist that God will provide.
A large part of Fr. Jeanathana’s passion comes from his faith in God. Shortly after he moved into the southern Yuba county city of Oliverhurst, he felt he was being called to help those who had been diagnosed as HIV positive or had developed AIDS. Because the area is fairly conservative and rural, AIDS, HIV and the LGBT communities are not topics of much sympathetic conversation.
Just because the community leaders don’t recognize the problem doesn’t mean its non-existent. As the requests for help to a sympathetic and loving Fr. Jeanathana increased, he knew had to had create a self-sustaining organization to meet the need. He founded Brothers and Sisters of Mercy to focus on 6 core non-medical areas of support for those living with the HIV virus.
- Rental and mortgage assistance
- Utility payment assistance
- Food cards to local grocery stores
- Transportation assistance in the form of gas cards or bus tickets
- Maintaining a non-CalFresh storehouse (personal hygiene products, beauty supplies and pet food)
- Funeral arrangements assistance payments.
While Fr. Jeanathana has the identified passion, population and services, the area’s location and demographics are posing the greatest challenges. There is still a lack of understanding and acceptance of the LGBT community and HIV in an area dominated by orchards and rice fields. Fr. Jeanathana has made numerous contacts with individuals who are sympathetic and want to help. Unfortunately, there is reluctance by the town’s people to be to closely identified with the cause.
The barriers of human attitudes can be over come with education. What is virtually impossible to conquer is a faulty bureaucratic system that under reports the HIV cases in the local area. The law states that you can only offer HIV testing if the provider offers counseling. Since the counseling portion is either beyond the means or scope of the local clinics and providers, HIV tests are rarely offered. Residents of the area travel to Sacramento to get tested.
If an individual tests positive for HIV in Sacramento, that case is recorded in Sacramento county. The case is not recorded Yuba or Sutter counties where the individual may have travelled from. Consequently, the Sutter-Yuba area only has 96 cases of HIV positive AIDS diagnosed individuals while Fr. Jeanatha has counted over 400 patients from the doctors he has been in contact with.
By the numbers
Based on population in the Sutter-Yuba counties (139,149) just .007% residents have either HIV or AIDS. By contrast, Sacramento County shows .23% of the population with HIV and AIDS diagnosis from a population of 1,223,499 and 3,169 cases. If we take Fr. Jeanatha’s unofficial count of 400 cases that moves the percentage of Sutter-Yuba residents up to .29% which is more realistic given the proximity of the Sutter and Yuba counties to Sacramento and their growing suburban population.
This bureaucratic induced under reporting of HIV cases makes it hard for the county to justify grant money and for Fr. Jeanathana to appeal to donors. From the calls for assistance that Fr. Jeanathana receives, it is apparent that there is a substantial need in there area for the help Brothers and Sisters of Mercy has to offer. Fr. Jeanathana doesn’t work off of numbers but need. As long as there is a need for Brothers and Sisters of Mercy, he will continue, with God’s help, to fulfill his calling.