When the valets park guests’ cars at the W Hotel on the Fort Lauderdale Beach, it is not unusual to see a Bentley or Rolls being driven to a secure spot. But on February 2, courtesy of the AIDS Health Care Foundation, a different kind of vehicle was being rolled out.
Halfway through a reception for Florida AIDS Walk team captains, AHF unveiled its new Mobile Testing Unit (MTU) to the surprised and awe-struck crowd. The vehicle had been delivered only hours before.
“The arrival of the new MTU to South Florida this past Tuesday was a gift from walkers in the 2009 Florida AIDS Walk,” James Vellequette, regional manager for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation said.
“Walkers overwhelmed us and raised $336,000 for our programs here in South Florida. Through their great efforts, they paid for a part of this new MTU.”
This is one of 10 such testing vehicles the AIDS Healthcare Foundation operates in the United States, the second in Florida. The vehicle brought memories back to Norm Kent, the one-time executive director of AIDS Project Florida and now SFGN’s publisher. He recalled the mobile testing unit he introduced in 2003. “It’s a far cry from our funky1969 VW Bus, but that was a pretty popular draw too, ” he said.
The outreach schedule will strive to meet the needs of all local communities, not just gay venues. “Those most heavily impacted by HIV will be served,” said Vellequette.
The mission of the daytime hours of the MTU will be to establish a consistent presence on certain days. “This way people will become familiar with it, and know when and where to go and get tested,” he said.
AHF is also undertaking several measures to ensure that the 25 million people who are HIV positive and unaware of their status are tested. This new MTU hopes to reach that goal in conjunction with other programs. A national HIV Testing Tour is also underway that will travel to all of the 48 continental states in 2010, promoting cross-cultural outreach.
There is also free, walk-in testing at the foundation’s Out of the Closet thrift stores.