It was thirty years ago, on May 2nd, 1992, that the AIDS Society of Kamloops was officially founded.
It was thirty years ago, on May 2nd, 1992, that the AIDS Society of Kamloops was officially founded. Its founder, Alfons Jalink, had started the work of the AIDS Society of Kamloops in his basement in 1988, and with the help of the Society’s first Executive Director, Mary Ann Sandrelli, formally established the Society four years later in 1992. The Society’s initial focus was on providing support to community members who were living and dying with HIV/AIDS, by supporting their health and wellness, providing comfort, and educating the Kamloops community in an attempt to reduce stigma.
Throughout the past 30 years, the core values of Compassion, Hope, Inclusion, and Trust have remained the ethos of the Society. Over the last three decades, our support has expanded and broadened to provide advocacy, housing and support services to other marginalized members of our community. We pivoted our supports and implemented a Housing-First strategy, and yet continue to address discrimination and stigma placed on the most vulnerable members of our societies. This has been what led to the Society changing its name in 2016 to the ASK Wellness Society, in order to better reflect the scope of the initiatives we are involved in within the communities we serve.
ASK’s humble and “boots on the ground” roots continue to guide our work. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, community reactions towards those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS were not unlike the current reactions towards those living with mental illness and addictions today, as well as their family, friends and care providers. We have always understood that the negative reactions towards those who are marginalized are often based on fear and a lack of understanding. This has been the climate within many of the communities where ASK provides services. Words of scorn, contempt and shame are shared on social media regarding those who struggle to manage their mental health and substance misuse or find themselves unable to work and access housing. We know that those without homes, who are also experiencing other barriers to be meaningfully included in their communities, suffer disproportionately. ASK has always endeavored to be a safe and welcoming place for those who have nowhere else to turn, a place without judgment. We are known for our willingness to support each individual at whatever point they are at in their journey and for our commitment to help improve their circumstance, however possible. We know that ASK is criticized by some for helping certain individuals; however, without harm reduction and housing support, many of these individuals are at serious risk of harm and death. We truly believe that social justice for one group cannot be at the expense of other groups.
Many of those who we work with are living with seemingly insurmountable barriers. Addiction and mental illness can seem like hopeless causes, yet recovery is possible. It is what we see daily in our workplaces and our programs. We see individuals standing tall and full of pride for their achievements of living in recovery in a home and participating in community through work and volunteerism. In our work, we are in a constant process of balancing the need to act with compassion while also promoting and expecting personal accountability. This is at the heart of the work we do.
In reflecting upon our 30 years and where we now find ourselves, it is imperative to express our gratitude towards our funders, community partner organizations, our staff and volunteers, and the community members who support us across the cities of Kamloops, Merritt and Penticton. Through our collaborative services, you have helped us to provide hope and support, even during the most challenging of times. To improve upon the current housing and health crises we are facing, it truly will take a continuous collective approach. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with all stakeholders and advocates for the next 30 years, as we remain committed to demonstrating community service, and never giving up hope for a better tomorrow.