25 Stories: Trial by Fire
August 24, 2012
Steve Everett’s first job at an AIDS service organization was supposed to be temporary. He’d taken an office manager position at Indiana Community AIDS Action Network (ICAAN), then housed in The Damien Center, just until he found his first teaching job. But instead, Steve, who grew up in rural Indiana with little exposure to the HIV/AIDS crisis, became unexpectedly passionate about the cause and has continued to work in the field since he first set foot in The Damien Center in 1991.
But those days, according to Steve, never saw a dull moment. “It was kind of trial by fire in the early days working here,” he says. Because The Damien Center was housed in an archdiocese building with a handful of other HIV-related organizations—Indiana Cares, ICAAN, Indiana Youth Group, Project Outreach, to name a few—the Center became a safe haven both for people infected with HIV and those who served them. That also meant people came from far and wide to seek the HIV/AIDS services offered by The Damien Center.
“There were many, many people that were coming to The Damien Center in the very end stages of the disease. They sometimes would walk in and just collapse,” Steve explains. “It was not uncommon to leave to go to lunch and then come back and there’d be an ambulance parked right at the front door.”
Those in need of care, says Steve, would drive in to the Center from as far Paoli, Indiana; Effingham, Illinois; or Dayton, Ohio because very few places in the Midwest outside of Chicago existed to provide these needed services. “They would hear about this Damien Center and make the trip,” Steve says, “but a lot of times their health was in such bad shape, that they had to go right to the hospital.”
Today, Steve serves as the director of programs for the Indiana Family Health Council, a quasi-federal agency that provides family planning services, testing, and more across Indiana. But he hasn’t forgotten his early experiences working in the field. “Back in the early days, it was by the seat of our pants,” he says. “Everything was kind of ‘let’s see what happens and then we’ll tweak it as we go along.’ Everything was very much a crisis approach.” The approach to prevention and care now, he says, has improved drastically and is “much more formalized.” Through his service in state government, private philanthropy, and nonprofit organizations, Steve has worked tirelessly to continue moving Indiana forward in providing services for those affected by HIV and in preventing the spread of it.