When Ayman Bodair and Shane Daugherty, both A&S ’14, took over the AIDS Awareness Committee (AAC) in the fall as president and vice president, the listserv they inherited had no current students on it. For the previous few years, the club had been “non-functioning,” as Bodair put it, and he and Daugherty, along with treasurer Neal Shah, A&S ’14, began the school year looking to breathe life back into the AAC.
“We were in over our heads at first,” Daugherty said. “We had no idea what we were doing. It was a completely dead organization. We had no membership. We basically had to start from scratch.”
They spent last semester doing just that: building membership, establishing goals, and planning events. The AAC now boasts between 30 and 40 active participants, according to Bodair, and has held or is in the process of planning several events that each work toward achieving one of their four goals: service, outreach to community groups with similar missions, increasing awareness on campus, and fundraising.
Their first event of the year was a panel held at the end of October, which featured biology professor Tricia Burdo and School of Theology and Ministry professors Andrea Viccini and Mary Joe Iozzio. Bodair and Daugherty considered the event a reasonable success, but hope to draw a much larger crowd to the benefit concert the ACC will be throwing on Feb. 20.
Largely organized by Shah, the concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. in McGuinn 121 and feature several a cappella groups as well as the musical group Jammin’ Toast. All proceeds will go to Camp Amerikids, an organization that hosts summer camps for children with HIV/AIDS.
“Usually, when you go to camp, you have to go through medical processes, and once they find out you have HIV/AIDS, they will deny you from going to that camp because of the danger for other kids,” Shah explained. “So this is a place where the kids who have HIV/AIDS, they can go to this camp, feel comfortable, and feel a part of something that normal kids do growing up.”
According to Bodair, Amerikids is underfunded, and the leaders of the organization were pleased to hear that the AAC is planning to donate all proceeds to them. They are also short on volunteers, and Shah said that the AAC is hoping to put together a group of their returning members to help at the camps this summer.
In addition to the concert, Bodair, Daugherty, and Shah hope to hold a 5K in the spring to raise awareness and money for a to-be-determined organization. To further increase awareness, they are planning another panel for this semester, this time drawing faculty who deal with HIV/AIDS from a variety of different disciplines, such as biology, sociology, and theology.
They had hoped to bring to campus this semester Paul Farmer, the founder of Partners in Health, an organization created to bring top-notch healthcare to the developing world. Due to his schedule, unfortunately, Farmer was unable to commit to a visit this semester, but Bodair and Daugherty say that everything is set up in order to get Farmer to BC at some point within the next year.
“We’re kind of luring him in,” Bodair said. “He has a new book he wants to promote.”
The AAC holds their general meetings once a month in various locations, but Bodair, Daugherty, and Shah have informal meetings among the three of them almost every day in the room they all share in Ignacio Hall.
“We’ll be having dinner in our common room, and we’ll just bring it in to conversation, talk about what we’re going to do,” Shah said.
The three pre-medical seniors have lived together every year of college, except for their junior year when Daugerty and Bodair moved off-campus. The three have been close since their freshman year, when they shared a triple on Upper Campus.
“It’s actually a funny story,” Shah said. “They’re both from the Pittsburgh area, so they both requested each other, looking for a double. I just requested a triple on Upper, and ended up being put with them. So, they knew they were living together and then found out, ‘Oh wow, there’s another roommate.'”
Shah and Bodair also work in the same lab on campus under Burdo and Ken Williams. They are both contributing to a study examining the neurological implications of HIV/AIDS, such as neuropathy and dementia. This experience opened their eyes to side effects of the disease that are not necessarily treated by current HIV medications.
At the end of last year, after working in the lab for several months, Bodair approached Brian Stamm, BC ’13, then president of AAC and his good friend, looking to get involved with the organization. Stamm asked him not only to join but to take over the club for the coming academic year, and Bodair recruited Daugherty and Shah to help him turn the organization into a prominent club on campus.
That task has become a little easier this semester with the return from sabbatical of their faculty advisor, Founders Professor in Theology Rev. James P. Keenan, S.J. Keenan, who has devoted much of his life to researching and writing on the ethics of HIV/AIDS, has been able to connect AAC with organizations in the community with similar goals. Bodair hopes that these connections will lead to a greater service component in the AAC and therefore greater interest in general from the student body.
“We’re hopefully going to draw a lot of pre-medical students who are looking to get experience working with patients, and people that want to work with public health issues,” Bodair said.
In five years, Shah hopes to see this aspect of the club playing a much more significant role than it does today. Bodair agreed, adding that he wants to see two major fundraisers each semester.
“I would like to see 100 active participants,” Daugherty said. “I’d like to see it be established enough to where it gains consistency, with consistent leadership and a consistent membership. But for right now, we want to keep it as open as possible and allow everybody an opportunity to really get involved.”