Cynthia Harris, MSW, is one of our many dedicated staff members who help clients who are affected by HIV. We got a chance to chat with her about her work on our clients behalf. 


How long have you been working with ACOS?

I’ve been with the agency for over 10 years. I first started as a clinician who was responsible for gathering HIV data and entering it. They called us “Data Debbies.” I really had a lot of respect for the agency right away, and I liked the work they did, so when a full-time job opened up here, I jumped at it.

What has surprised you most about working with ACOS?
I don’t think that “surprised” is the right word, but one of the things I really like about the agency is how we use a holistic approach to helping people who are HIV Positive. We don’t just try to get your viral load down to undetectable levels, we want you to be engaged and see the value in life—that way, you’ll really want to be an active participant to getting healthy and staying healthy.

What do you find most challenging about working in an HIV-related agency?
There is still a significant amount of stigma and misunderstanding around HIV, and it can really get in the way of people getting tested and getting help. HIV and AIDS has changed over the years, but the thing I like about us is that we’ve changed how we address it to keep up with the times.

What do you wish other people knew about ACOS?
There is a real notion that HIV has been contained so neatly with Antiretroviral drugs that there is no need to worry about it anymore. I mean, amazing progress has been made on the medical front, but helping people who have significant barriers to care—homelessness, mental illness, addiction—that’s where the fight really is.

What's your personal philosophy on what we do?
I really like that we make human dignity at the center of our approach. With ACOS, you’re a person first, and by starting there we can really put ourselves in a position to help people improve their lives.

Tell me about someone who has influenced your work here?
Paul Fitzgerald, certainly. ACOS was founded to address the reality of babies being born with HIV. He created one of the first Pediatric Care Units in the country for babies born with HIV. His outlook and approach are so compelling, and he naturally treats everyone with dignity and compassion.

What do you think will change (or you would like to see change) about us over the next five years?
One of the things that is really on our minds is the reality of people living with HIV and are in care are living longer. That means that we have people who are HIV positive aging into their fifties and beyond. Soon, will have a whole generation of HIV-positive elders, and we really need work at understanding what this actually means, from a service perspective.