Santa Monica AIDS Project director departs FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 21 Feb 1999 10:00:29 -0800 (PST)


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http://www.latimes.com/excite/990218/tCB0030470.html
FWD  Los Angeles Times - Thursday, February 18, 1999

     A LEGACY OF LIFE

     Chief of Santa Monica AIDS Project departs
     after four years of service.

     By DEANNA WELCH


SANTA MONICA -- Having seen hundreds of people die well before their time,
Hywel Sims is in many ways much older than 40. But it is his boyish sense
of humor and British charm that his colleagues at Santa Monica AIDS Project
say they will miss the most when Sims, the organization's chief executive
officer, moves back to England next month to spend more time with his
family.

"We will really miss him around here," said Deon Claiborne, independent
living skills specialist at Santa Monica AIDS Project. "I've worked in a
lot of social service agencies and he is one of the most accessible
executive directors I've ever met. He listens, he lets people do their jobs
and he has a great sense of humor." Since 1995, Sims has been at the helm
of this 7-year-old organization, which provides services such as meals and
counseling for HIV-positive people, as well as an array of AIDS-education
programs.

During his time with the organization, Sims has seen its annual operating
budget -- funded in part by the city of Santa Monica -- jump from $250,000
to $750,000. He has also seen the number of HIV-positive people who receive
regular services from the agency leap from 50 to 175.

Chief Operating Officer Jayne Adams will take over Sims' position.  Sims
attributes this growth to the increase in the number of services Santa
Monica AIDS Project provides, especially offering temporary housing for up
to 30 days for HIV-positive people facing homelessness.

He added that he hopes Santa Monica AIDS Project will conduct even more
outreach to and involve more homeless people across the Westside in the
years ahead.

"The challenge is that we need to become part of other services while
remembering that there is still an AIDS phobia in this country," he said.
"Until we deal with racism, homophobia and economic injustice, AIDS will
always be with us." With these goals in mind, the organization's name will
change to "Common Ground: The Westside HIV Community Center" in the months
ahead.

Sims, who spent his youth in Wales, became passionate about helping those
with HIV/AIDS after watching "The Normal Heart," a play written by AIDS
activist Larry Kramer.

"At that time, I thought I didn't know anybody with HIV," Sims said. "But
the play opened my eyes. And as soon as I did, I saw it everywhere I
looked." Sims changed his line of work from selling fashion at Harrods in
London to fund-raising for what is now the largest European AIDS
organization. He moved to Los Angeles in the late 1980s and began working
for the AIDS Hospice Foundation, now known as the AIDS Healthcare
Foundation. It was by working with people in hospices that he got to know
the disease and realized how many patients were there because they were not
educated about HIV.

"After seeing about 200 people die so unnecessarily -- apart from feeling
awfully sad -- I knew I had to focus on prevention," Sims said.

So he moved to Santa Monica AIDS Project, which has a peer-education
program where teenagers talk to other teenagers about AIDS prevention. Last
year, the group's peer educators gave presentations to about 5,000
teenagers on the Westside.

Another work Sims considers to be one of his greatest achievements at Santa
Monica AIDS Project is helping to create an HIV clinic, which opened at
Venice Family Clinic in October to provide medical care to homeless and
low-income people with HIV. The advantage to integrating with a general
clinic, Sims said, is that those who become ill and do not know they are
infected with HIV or are too intimidated to go to an AIDS clinic are more
likely to walk into a general clinic.

Former Santa Monica Mayor and Santa Monica AIDS Project founding board
member Judy Abdo said the HIV clinic is one of the ways Sims has made the
organization better able to help those who need it the most.

"He was the ideal person to position the agency in the changing world of
AIDS," Abdo said. "He's a very special person." "I'll miss the sense of
possibility here," Sims said. "I've never heard someone at Santa Monica
AIDS Project say 'We can't do it that way.' They are very open to change."

END FORWARD

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