Over the decades, Lynne Meyerkord has experienced wins and losses for the AIDS community.
For example, there have been significant medical advancements. Medications like Truvada and pre-exposure prophylaxis, aka PrEP, can now treat and prevent HIV.
“Those advancements are really exciting in our field and give us a real chance at ending the AIDS epidemic,” Meyerkord says.
But she can never forget all that AIDS has taken, and it motivates her to keep pushing toward progress.
“The reason I decided to get involved was that my friends were dying – that’s the easiest way to put that,” Meyerkord says. “My friends and I would gather at the bar on weekends. You’d see one friend, and the next week you’d hear he wasn’t feeling well. The next week he was in the hospital, and the next week he was dead. That happened over and over again.”
Meyerkord began volunteering at the AIDS Project of the Ozarks in 1987 as a support group facilitator while managing a full-time job at Burrell Behavioral Health. During her time at Burrell, she worked in outpatient services as a part-time coordinator but was promoted to the full-time manager of housing services, a role in which she supervised 28 clinicians. After years of volunteer and board service at APO, she earned a paid job in 1994 and rose to the role of executive director in 1998.
Through the years, she’s helped the organization, which offers HIV counseling and testing, infectious disease care and community prevention and education, expand. When she began, the nonprofit served nearly 300 clients per year, the original office stood at about 750 square feet and the yearly operating budget was $2 million. Now, they serve more than 5,000 people annually, their building is more than 14,000 square feet and they operate with a yearly budget of almost $10 million.
“When we were in our first tiny office on Olive Street, we didn’t want to be on the registry at that time because we were afraid that folks would attempt to find out who was coming to our office and potentially threaten us,” she says. “Now we’re on Glenstone in a new building. That’s absolutely huge for us.”
In early 2020, APO plans on using its new mobile testing and medical care RV to bring limited exams and health screenings to 29 counties. “We provide an example of how a really marginalized population can thrive if they get the assistance they need,” Meyerkord says.
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