When he walked through the Aliveness Project’s doors on Dec. 10, 2015, Bobby had finally come to terms with the fact that he needed help.
After experiencing a health-related incident resulting from his HIV-positive status, Bobby turned to the Aliveness Project (which does not identify its members by last name for privacy reasons). The nonprofit provided him with counseling with its on-staff nutritionist, a meal plan and integrative therapies. “It’s hard for me to say ‘yes’ and ‘please’ because of my pride,” he said. “But I got to the point where I needed to humble myself.”
The Aliveness Project was founded in 1985 as a grassroots community resource in Minneapolis dedicated to supporting those living with HIV and AIDS. Over the years, it developed a set of services and programs to address the unique challenges of its members — such as nutrition, mental health, substance abuse, poverty and homelessness — by offering nutritious meals, meal planning, a food shelf, integrative therapy, HIV testing and counseling, case manage- ment, a holiday gift program and a community center.
After reaching its capital campaign goal of $3 million in 2014, the center moved out of its old, cramped, windowless space into its new headquarters, a sunny, 30,000-square-foot space at 38th & Nicollet in Southwest Minneapolis. It holds a cafeteria, a commercial kitchen, private space for counseling and integrative therapy, a communal area for members, a food shelf and office space for its staff.
‘A community center that happens to also be an AIDS service organization.’
The Aliveness Project’s dedication to community remains integral to its mission.
“It began literally around a kitchen table,” Executive Director Amy Moser said. “People were seeing their best friends wasting away from AIDS and being isolated from their families, so a group of folks started gathering together to make sure they had enough food to eat.
“That’s still at the root of what we do — it’s a community center that happens to also be an AIDS service organization.”
To serve its 1,700 active members, the Aliveness Project’s staff (the equivalent of 21 full-time employees) is supplemented by a dedicated team of 1,300 volunteers — many of who are also members — who together put in nearly 550 hours per week.
“It’s a place of community,” Bobby agreed. “There are other places that offer services where a lot of people don’t feel welcome. Here, you walk in and the receptionist knows your name. They meet you where you’re at.”
Bobby now volunteers at the center’s food shelf and as an ambassador for the organization’s annual Dining Out for Life fundraiser.
“It helps to give back to the community,” he said.
Jeff Goetz, a recent retiree, has been a volunteer for the Aliveness Project since January. Goetz, who volunteered when living in New York City in the 1980s during the height of the AIDS epidemic, decided he wanted to spend his newfound free time giving back to his community. At the Aliveness Project, you can find him doing everything from manning the front desk to repainting walls.
“I find that these people are frequently marginalized and need a great deal of help, so I want to do whatever I can,” he said.
‘Building community and coming together’
Dining Out for Life, the Aliveness Project’s signature fundraiser, is a national initiative to raise money for regional HIV and AIDS organizations. During the last Thursday of April, more than 200 partnering restaurants in Minnesota donate a portion of proceeds from dining sales from the evening to the organization. The Aliveness Project boasts the country’s second most-successful Dining Out for Life campaign, netting more than $270,000 in a day in 2015 — a fifth of its annual budget
“I think the Twin Cities really responds to our mission of building community and coming together,” said Moser.
The Aliveness Project
Location: 808 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis
Year Founded: 1985
What you can do
— Donate through a fiscal gift, car donation, goods and services (including food shelf items) or during Give to the Max Day on Nov. 17.
— Participate in Dining Out for Life by dining at a participating restaurant, which donates a portion of proceeds to the Aliveness Project.
— Volunteer as a front desk receptionist, food shelf worker, kitchen assistant or office assistant at the center, or as a Dining Out for Life ambassador.
By the numbers
$270,702 — Funds raised during Dining Out for Life in 2015
153,010 — Pounds of food shelf groceries distributed in 2015
30,692 — Hot meals served in 2015
3,463 — Hours of case management provided in 2015
571 — Nutrition sessions given in 2015
298 — HIV tests given in 2015