Care for people in the Ozarks living with HIV/AIDS likely would be very different if it wasn’t for Lynne Meyerkord.
She began her work with AIDS Project of the Ozarks as a volunteer counselor in the late 1980s, as tens of thousands of people nationwide had died due to AIDS-related complications and the stigma surrounding the disease was rampant.
When Congress passed the Ryan White Care Act in 1990, Meyerkord was instrumental in leading the APO board to secure funding, and it became one of the first AIDS service organizations in the country to receive federal funds to treat the disease.
After years of serving on the board and as a volunteer counselor, Meyerkord became APO’s client services director and then executive director in 1998.
Since then, she says the organization has grown from a roughly $700,000 annual budget serving 300 clients to an organization budgeting nearly $8 million and reaching 5,000 people a year. The nonprofit takes its medical care and education services to 29 southwest Missouri counties.
“APO has come such a long way since 1988, when we had difficulty finding a building owner willing to rent to us because of the stigma involved with HIV/AIDS,” Meyerkord says. “APO has become a successful, mission-fulfilling agency that provides much needed medical and psychosocial care to marginalized, stigmatized and underserved populations.”
Dr. Stephen Adams, APO’s medical director, says Meyerkord has led APO to become “a model of excellence in HIV care.” He says she and the board of directors worked to broaden its mission to the LGBTQ community to ensure access to appropriate medical care. For instance, APO provides pre-exposure prophylaxis, a way for people who do not have HIV, but who are at high risk, to prevent infection by taking a daily pill.
“Starting with education about HIV prevention, testing and treatment for HIV, support for people living with HIV, including their families, and appropriate and compassionate care for the LGBTQ community, Lynne has led APO and southwest Missouri to become a healthier community for all people,” Adams says.
Among her proudest accomplishments, Meyerkord notes the 2017 move to a new headquarters on South Glenstone Avenue, which she says helped boost the organization’s visibility. She also cites her work on the founding board of Jordan Valley Community Health Center, as well as the city of Springfield’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Task Force.
In the office, Meyerkord says she’s been intentional about making APO a place people want to work, offering such perks as dogs in the office on Fridays, new parents bringing babies to work and flexible schedules. She often promotes from within for management positions, citing an internal culture of mentorship.
“I believe that relationship and listening skills are the most important tools we have,” she says. “Providing the staff with numerous opportunities for input and policy development is critical. As a nonprofit in an ever-changing political and funding landscape, creativity and flexibility are key. I believe I lead by example.”
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