Friday, June 19, 2009

Information &Referrals

If you look at my Twitter profile, you will see several non-profit organizations and charities that I associate myself with. You may be surprised and wonder how one person can support so many agencies and still have time for themselves. Let me tell you a bit of my experience in working with so many (and there are many more that are not listed). I once worked for The United Way of America as an Information & Referral Specialist. This is an actual job that requires extensive training, as well as national testing. Once trained in this field, I took calls from the general public, who were usually at the end of their rope, looking for assistance for a variety of problematic issues. Some of the calls were from those about to become homeless and were looking for resources to prevent this devastation. Some calls were from those who had just lost everything from a fire or flood and needed immediate assistance. People called in with addiction issues needing treatment, as well as, health/ insurance issues. There were those who needed help with utility bills, finding financial assistance for school, issues with work related discrimination, HIV/AIDS support, suicide ideation, domestic violence, sexual abuse, mortgage difficulties, and just about every topic that you could imagine. It was my (and several of my colleagues) position to contact the referring agencies and discuss the type of assistance that they could provide. This work was very interesting because all of these agencies wanted to reach out and help those in need. My callers usually called us as a last resort, as they have tapped into every other suggestion given to them by friends and family. I was amazed at the services that were out there wanting to lend a hand, if people would only ask. In some cases, financial assistance was readily given. I thoroughly enjoyed this cross talk with these organizations, as it was a learning experience for me, and I soon became very familiar with every individual service that each agency provided. And there were always more agencies willing to help. They just needed to get the word out to let the public know that they existed. I felt great joy from connecting people to services that would make their lives a little better. And it is all about these ever so important connections. Once involved with an agency, you are likely to become a lifetime client and always be provided with support, if needed. Like all non-profits, funding is necessary. Some receive state and federal grants, and some rely on private donations. To keep these agencies up and running, money is needed. Even giving a small amount can make a big difference if the masses are donating. On Twitter, I saw that there were users who were promoting a cause, but these users usually posted an article related to their cause and that was it. I thought a more personal touch was needed so I decided to make myself as available as much as possible to answer questions, give support, give referrals and (as a Counselor) just listen to the trials and tribulations that people were going through. Sometimes, people need only to vent and feel as though they are being heard and understood. This reduces anxiety. If their situation remains in their head, it gains power, seeming worse than it actually is, and almost becomes paralyzing. Once out in the open, problems seems much more realistic and solvable. So please take the time to investigate the link that I provide and skim through the list of services that each organization provide. From, "Feeding America" to "UNICEF", you will be a bit more educated. You may not be in need of the service, yourself, but you may know someone who can benefit from them. And you know, there are tens of thousands of people on Twitter. Everyone has baggage and life issues to deal with so I believe this service can be helpful. Every section of the country has their own division of the, "United way's First Call For Help". You need only to call your directory to locate the phone number of your local branch. Hopefully, connecting people to services will become a little easier on Twitter.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

HIV/ AIDS Today and Yesterday

When the pandemic first struck in 1981, there was no treatment. It wasn't even called AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency disease syndrome) . It was called 'gay cancer', 'gay compromise syndrome' , 'community-acquired immune dysfunction" and GRID (gay-related immune deficiency) . KS (Karposi's Sarcoma), a specific type of cancer, and PCP (Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia) were soon the two main medical conditions being discovered by physicians in a certain population of people who met a certain criteria. Known primarily to affect only those with compromised immune systems, these conditions were very rare but over time more and more cases were being reported in hospital emergency rooms. Patients, who were primarily gay men at the time, were dying in a matter of months. As researchers worked on containing a virus, which attacked the body's immune system, it soon became apparent that a vaccine was going to be impossible to develop. This virus, eventually named HIV ( human immunodeficiency virus ) was classified as a 'retrovirus', meaning it was able to duplicate itself into many different forms when spreading throughout the body so one 'single' vaccine was not going to be able to conquer it. This dismal picture of AIDS was prevalent throughout the 1980's. Though there wasn't a cure, the medical community concentrated on treating the symptoms of the many 'opportunistic infections' ( a group of maladies affecting only those with a compromised immune systems) seen in those with AIDS. The goal was to improve the quality of ones life and promote longevity but, unfortunately,these treatments were not very successful and many continued to die. From the gay community, AIDS found its way into the IV drug using community and eventually into the straight community. Mothers contracting the virus were giving birth to babies already infected. The AIDS virus was found in blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk. Transmission occurred when the bodily fluids of one infected person were transferred into the blood system of a non-infected person. The nation went into panic mode and AIDS social service agencies could not be developed fast enough. And with AIDS came fear, hatred, bigotry and rejection. People were fired from their jobs and displaced from their homes. Teen-agers were being turned away from their own families as feeling guilt and shame were damaging all self worth in many of those infected. As drastic as this was, AIDS activist groups were, also, being created to fight for funding for research, medication and education. Dame Elizabeth Taylor became the first and foremost leader of this battle creating amFAR (The American Foundation for AIDS Research) and her own Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. She slowly raised millions of dollars with her philanthropic efforts. Radial groups such as ACT-UP demonstrated and held protests demanding equal rights and better societal treatment. It took years until one single drug, AZT, showed promise in slowing down the production of the virus in the blood stream. It was a major advancement and in some cases, it prolonged life but not significantly. As other drugs came down the pipeline, ACT-UP demanded that the FDA (Federal Drug & Food Administration) streamline experimental drug and to release them quickly for human consumption. People simply didn't have the the opportunity to wait extended periods of time for drugs to be approved. Some drugs, commonly known as Nucleoside/ Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs) and Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NNRTIs) were developed and clinical trials for effectiveness started as soon as possible. Now, some with AIDS were able to add some years, instead of months, to their lives. But it was still a life with an inevitable end in sight. Even though there were advancements in the treatment of AIDS, health issues were still an uphill battle. Systems of a severely compromised immune system, as well as side effects from the new medication, caused problems unto themselves. There were those who were too ill on a daily basis to enjoy the extension of their lives and misery prevailed once again. Those infected with HIV gave up their employment and went on disability. Some were cashing in their life insurance policies for money to exist on. And exist they did. Isolation, depression, hopelessness, and substance abuse addictions plagued this population of people who were left to ponder the meaning of their life having acquired this affliction. Finally, in 1996, there was a significant discovery. The creation of a group of drugs called 'Protease Inhibitors' (PIs) attacked the virus in a method never seen before and, at last, there seemed to be some hope. Though these drugs did not cure AIDS, they initiated an entire new phase in the history of AIDS treatment. PI's came with their own particular troublesome list of side effects and a battle ensued in regards to taking the medication, which made most people ill or not to take them. In the years that followed, more and more drugs were created with less and less side effects. HIV could virtually be undetected in the body with the proper use of these medications. Without HIV destroying the body's immune system, the immune system had a chance to repair itself. As AIDS was slowly slipping away from having a reputation of being an instant death sentence, people were building back the foundation of their lives. They were feeling better, living longer and were able to enjoy life, once again. Unfortunately, this was not the case for everyone and there were still those who succumbed to the disease. Today, we have several classifications of effective drugs: Fusion Inhibitors and Intergrase Inhibitors all attack the virus in different ways. These drugs are now used in conjunction with others in combinations commonly called ' a cocktail' . Taking these medications is now a daily routine and vital in the lives of those suffering from HIV/AIDS. Now, it is hopeful that living ten, twenty or thirty years may be a reality. The medical profession is now calling HIV/AIDS a manageable disease. There is a downside, though. The long term use of these potent medications it not fully understood and ,as years go by, these medications may be more harmful to the body that actually having AIDS itself. Only time will tell. A second drawback is drug resistance. Each of these medications may only be effective for a certain amount of time and then they are no longer able to keep the virus at bay. So, the discovery for a cure can never be pushed onto the back burner. For only when AIDS is eradicated from the face of the Earth, is when we shall find peace. Researchers are skeptical that this will occur in the near future but advances in AIDS treatment remain tremendous in comparison to a quarter of a century ago. Though there is still a stigma attached to those with AIDS, it is not the face of quivering illness as it once was in our society. It is the face of health and prosperity. And we remain forever hopeful. If you wish to donate to the cause, please visit The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation:
Any contribution will be greatly appreciated.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Twitter and Social Services

When I discovered this mega-web site on the Internet, I was confused and curious. Learning the premise was pretty simple. Simpler than most but I wondered, why such a big fuss? I learned that marketing and social networking seemed to be the goal of creating such a site but with millions of users professing to be doing the 'same thing', how would one distinguish one post from another? The way that tweets zip down a stream reminds me of sticking my hand out of the car window as a child, and trying to catch one snow flake. If you do stop to read one article, you are in peril of missing one hundred more tweets traveling through your stream. How do you know what to stop and visit, and what you should just let slip by? I certainly understood the celebrity aspect of the site. As a society, we have always followed our celebrities and they were, in our living rooms. Their number of followers are massive. When one has 450,000 followers, how can you possibly watch your stream and attempted to isolate one tweet? It is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack. The social aspect of Twitter is fun. Meeting people, sharing thoughts and idea's and building connections. You look forward to seeing these people every time that you log on. They become friends and you soon share in each other's lives. You laugh, tell jokes, meet their friends and it is just plain old fun. As people watch your interactions with others, they get to see a bit of your personality. If they like what they see, you have a follower. If people like your bio, then you have a follower but I believe that observing actual interaction is where the magic is. I encourage people to come out of their shell and start to interact. It starts with just one tweet....and it can take off from there. At the beginning, I thought: aside from the social aspect from Twitter, what can I contribute? My profession is in the field of social services. I am a Counselor and I help people discover their own answers in regards to the problematic issues of their lives. I empower people to use what is within them to find solutions in their lives. I do not give advice, as a rule. I certainly didn't want to be a 'Dear Abby' on Twitter but I could see myself connecting people to social services, as I do this for people on a daily basis. There is a population of people who are down and out on their luck, for one reason or another. Homelessness, hunger, mental illness, addiction, AIDS, domestic abuse, runaway teens, etc... There are hundreds of social service agencies that have computers for these lost souls to use, free of charge to provide some meaningful connection with the rest of the world. These computers are always in use and their users are grateful to have access to them. Sometimes, it is the only friend that they have. I wanted to devote my Twitter site to those people who are looking for answers and may not know where to turn. They are users, among all the rest of us. I also wanted to point out to the more fortunate users... what organizations are the best of the best in dealing with these social issues. They may know someone who could use such services. And I wanted to add a human touch to my site, not just providing a long laundry list of services without being able to provide individual information on each one. Now, I feel confident that I have found a unique place on Twitter and my wish is that, as time goes by, people can depend on my site for education, information, compassion, empathy and kindness. I believe this is what may be missing on Twitter and just what it may need. My site: Please visit, and take a look around!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Dame Elizabeth Taylor

She was born on February 27, 1932 and by the age of 12 she was an international star. By her 16th birthday, she was being called The Most Beautiful Woman in the World. The fact that she was called a woman was more exciting to her than the meaning of the statement itself. The camera was definitely her first lover. She had a certain quiet energy when she was on screen and was capable of evoking emotions with a slight tilt of the head, or the subtle movement of an eyebrow. Her close ups were her best feature. You could not look away from her when she appeared on screen. In the life of a child star, there is usually a period of adolescent awkwardness as puberty settles in and it doesn't always photograph very well. Elizabeth never had such a period. She transitioned from a stunning teen to a mature sensual woman by the age of 16. Her first adult film role was at age 16, playing the wife of a military man. Her first passionate screen kiss came years before her real life romances. Elizabeth Taylor was never conceited about her appearance. She always wanted to know what the big fuss was all about. As she matured, she simply became more beautiful. Jet black hair, violet eyes with a double row of eyelashes created an on screen sensation. She has proclaimed never to have had an acting lesson. Her method of acting is instinctual. She is, at all times, always aware of the camera and is able to emote within the tiny little window that a close up provides. This separates her from any other actor. This two time Oscar winner has been titled one of the greatest actresses of all time. It was a combination of her on screen presence, her beauty and her private life that kept her constantly under the public eye. But, unlike the stars who were ruled by studios to conduct their lives according to a set of standard rules and regulations, Elizabeth had her own rules and never felt the need to explain anything to anyone. Her staple statement, "I answer to myself and only to those I love" has sustained her for over seven decades. Great joyous and great tragic events were played out in front of the public as millions of people watched with baited breath. What would happen to her next? Her life was called a modern day soap opera, but she didn't see it that way. Dozens of books have been published detailing the life of Elizabeth Taylor though she hasn't read any of them. She refuses to write an autobiography as she believes that she is still living the chapters of her life. Despite the public fascination with her, Elizabeth Taylor is a very private person. There are aspects of her life that will follow her to the grave. She has always known what her personal priorities were and never sold out. Those who know and love her claim that she is a generous and supportive friend. Those who know and love her have been loyal to her for a lifetime. As she lived through the passages of her life, she started to question her life's' purpose. She has stated, " If not to make the world a better place, then what is money for?" Her commitment to AIDS came from passion and anger at the injustice that she was seeing all around her regarding this deadly demon. Seeing people discriminated against, and turned away from society was a sin and she refused to look the other way. From a thriving acting career, she switched gears and became one of the most powerful and influential philanthropist of our time. Not only did she raise money for AIDS, she also took to heart actual AIDS patients and comforted them when they were so close to the end. She revealed to Larry King that she purposely used her fame and clout to bring public attention to AIDS. She felt it was the only way to display fame. Elizabeth has been all over the globe promoting AIDS awareness and raising money. She has been honored by royalty throughout Europe for her humanitarian efforts and at 77, she shows no sign of slowing down or abandoning her plight. In this day and age, AIDS is thought to be a manageable disease with people living twenty or thirty years opposed to living for six months a quarter of a century ago. But even this isn't good enough for Elizabeth Taylor. She refuses to rest until a cure is found for only then will the plague be wiped off the face of the Earth. This is her never ending goal. In 2000, she was given the title Dame by Queen Elizabeth of England. Now, our Dame Elizabeth Taylor lives a quiet life with family and friends...but ever the selfless activist. On a personal note, Dame Elizabeth is my hero and I have created a YouTube site dedicated to her life: . I have been following her career since the early days of AIDS and have been contacted by her regarding my site, work and other such matters. She is a dear, friendly, stunning lady!!! I work in this field and have seen the fruits of her labor assist millions of those infected with the disease. Her work with amFar (The American Foundation for AIDS Research) and her own, The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation has raised almost 300 million dollars. She is priceless. She is one of a kind. We shall never see the likes of her again.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Introduction: Richard Bassett

My name is Richard Bassett. I work as an Addictions/ HIV/AIDS Counselor and Case Manager in Boston, Massachusetts. A little background information: My first career was that of a Radiological Technologist. I had always wanted to be an actor so relocated from Boston to Los Angeles where I work in the Radiology field and adjusted my schedule to compliment my auditions. As a Radiological Technologist, I made a pretty good income and still had my days free to pursue acting. I did this for ten years, had my 15 minutes of fame and then returned home, to Boston. I advanced in my career in Radiology and became an MRI, CT Technologist. I also worked in a Cardiac Cath lab. A life and death environment if there ever was one. Soon, I became a manager and my life consisted of paper work, deadlines, meetings and more paper work. I was losing contact with all humanity, facing the four walls of my office on a daily basis. I knew that I had to make a change. After volunteering in a number of non-profit organizations, I knew that I wanted to work in the social service field. I wanted to help people and embrace humanity again. Taking a drastic pay cut, I returned to school and became a Certified Alcohol and Drug Addictions Counselor (CADAC), I worked with those clients who were dually diagnosed (having an addiction and a mental illness). I soon started to work with the HIV/AIDS population, as well as with those in crisis. I had volunteered for The Samaritans Suicide Prevention Organization and discovered an entirely new way to communicate with those contemplating suicide. Other populations of people I have worked with include teens at risk, and our homeless population. I decided to blog at this point in my life as I have had many experiences with people struggling through a variety hardships. In most cases, these experiences have been labeled a success story so I wanted to share some of my thoughts, as well as, my personal philosophy with you. If it helps you, or someone that you know, then I feel that I have done a service on the Internet. Hopefully, you will join me on this journey. In my life, I have always admired Dame Elizabeth Taylor, as being a strong activist and ultimate humanitarian in the war against AIDS. She has struggled with chaos in her own life and chose to turn her energy outward and save millions of peoples lives. She remains my personal hero and I have created a site on YouTube dedicated to her: I hope that you visit my site and get to know Dame Elizabeth through interviews, film clips, slide shows and see some of the work that she has done with HIV/AIDS. She is my personal inspiration for doing the work that I currently do.