Camp provides fun for HIV-positive kids

(Republished with permission from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This article originally ran in the Life & Style section on Thursday, August 18, 2005)

By Aja Junior
Of the Post-Dispatch

Camp HOPE is a three-day program for children and their families, which includes swimming, horseback riding, and arts and crafts. The one thing about this camp that makes it different than others is that all the children are HIV-positive.

Project ARK sponsors the camp, which will take place Friday to Sunday. “Some of our kids live for the camp,” said Dr. Kathleen McGann, co-medical director of Project ARK.

Project ARK, which stands for Project ARK-AIDS/HIV Resources and Knowledge, was first established 10 years ago to provide comprehensive health care for mothers and their infected newborns. Today, the program has been expanded to also help men and older children.

Kim Donica, director of Project ARK, at 4169 Laclede Avenue, discusses the purpose, program and ideas of Project ARK:

Q. What has been Project ARK’s greatest accomplishment?

A. The dramatic reduction of mother-to-child transmission. We had a zero perinatal infection rate in 2003 and 2004. We developed a nationally recognized adolescent program, Health and Education for Youth, which currently serves 126 youth, ages 13-24, and an overall improved health outcome for HIV-infected children, youth and women.

Q. How did Project ARK come about?

A. Project ARK was funded by a Ryan White Title IV Grant in 1995, (under the auspices) of Washington University School of Medicine. At that time there were no programs for HIV-infected children in the St. Louis area. The ARK was a place of safety, a haven for those in need of help.

Q. What are the programs that Project ARK provides?

A. We coordinate the delivery of medical care, social services including case management, support groups, mental health services, outreach and prevention and counseling and (HIV) testing. The majority of our services are directed towards children, youth, and their families.

Q. What has been the response from the community?

A. We have had great success in recruiting volunteers to help with our programs like Camp HOPE. We have had a tremendous amount of support in that regard and we have had a great response from the community in welcoming our programs. I wish we had the opportunity to do more HIV prevention in schools. Project ARK has family members that work in some part-time paid positions to help with our special programming such as a school supply drive for HIV-infected children as well as a toy drive during the Christmas holidays.

Q. What does the future for the organization look like?

A. Project ARK has made tremendous strides and accomplishments over the past 10 years. We need to continue to maintain our effort to lower mother to child HIV transmissions, and to continue to provide comprehensive services to women, youth, and family. We will continue to work to try to reduce new HIV infections among these groups.

Copyright 2005 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.