Posted Online: May 05, 2008, 10:38 am

AIDS Project gets new leader

Comment on this story

By Reggie Jarrell, rjarrell@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Robert Leistra
Wendy Kelly, executive director of AIDS Project Quad Cities, sits at a conference table inside the Moline building on Monday, April 28. The orginization was established in 1986 and offers case management services to persons who are infected with HIV/AIDS and provides education to help reduce the spread of HIV.

AIDS Project Quad Cities has a new executive director and agency officials didn't have to look far to fill the position.

Wendy Kelly, former director of programs, who joined the agency in 2004, replaces Polly Meagher, who said it's time for someone else to lead the agency.

"I have every confidence that Wendy is absolutely suited for the executive director slot and will move the agency even more to the forefront of service excellence for our community," said Ms. Meagher.

Ms. Kelly sees social networking as essential and plans to continue tailoring messages to the culture and social norms of the intended audience, vital to spreading the word about HIV/AIDS.

She said the agency's central message is there's "no shame in getting tested, knowing your status and being safe," and the group will continue to "work the streets, providing education and outreach, just letting people know our services are out there."

Along with programs in civic organizations, schools, social-service agencies, churches and other venues, Ms. Kelly wants to take the message to corporate entities.

"We would hope to start providing education for some of the larger employers in the Quad-Cities," she said. "The more people we can share our message with, the better off we are."

One continuing target audience is young people, as their numbers increase with sexually transmitted diseases.

"If they are putting themselves at risk for STDs, they could very well be putting themselves at risk for HIV," Ms. Kelly said.

Another target audience is young members of the "same-gender loving community." These young people have not seen very many of their peers die from the disease but still engage in dangerous behavior.

Ms. Kelly would like to increase the agency's funding pool, but with many organizations seeking shrinking non-profit and charitable gift dollars, she knows it will be a challenge. The agency's voice must be distinctive to be heard, she said.

"We just have to present real hard facts, and really work to educate funders who may not be knowledgeable about HIV and the wide range of effects," she said. "We have to bring the message home that no one is immune and this could be a devastating thing to a community if not addressed.

"As long as people are still getting infected, that means that someone didn't hear the message. This disease is 100 percent preventable," she added.

Ms. Kelly's father was the late Thomas M. Kelly Jr., the first African-American attorney in the area in the 1950s and a staunch human and civil rights advocate.

"Don't forget where you came from," she said he advised her, "and don't forget about the real people you are working for, and working with."