When 33-year-old Missy Montgomery decided to enroll in Columbia College’s evening program for a master’s in business administration, she found that her classes weren’t the only new use of her time.
After a semester, she decided to use her flexible schedule to get involved in the community.
“I knew I wouldn’t be working, so I started thinking about what I could do,” Montgomery said.
That’s when she got involved in the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network. She discovered the organization through a former employer who was involved with the organization’s annual fund-raiser, the Wine & Art Auction. Now, Montgomery is helping with the annual auction herself.
Last year’s auction raised more than $50,000 for the organization, which offers support services for people in mid-Missouri living with HIV/AIDS. This year’s auction will be Nov. 18, and preparations for the event are in full swing.
“You get dressed up, enjoy yourself and know that what you’re doing is helping,” Montgomery said of the event.
Founded in 1992 by people associated with the United Methodist Church, the network was originally “a volunteer organization providing care and support for people dying of AIDS,” said Mindy Mulkey, executive director.
At the end of 2002, about 859,000 people were infected with HIV/AIDS in the United States, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 10,006 live in Missouri and 60 of them are children.
But as treatments have improved, the network is now serving more people living with HIV than dying of AIDS. The organization’s goal is to help such people maintain a quality lifestyle.
“We offer case management, housing, an emergency food pantry, HIV testing and counseling and a primary care program,” Mulkey said. Money raised at events like the Wine & Art Auction goes to support these services.
Montgomery has been involved in many of the network’s other projects: driving clients to the hospital, delivering food, even auctioning herself in the organization’s Dream Date Auction last May. The help she is able to provide through the organizationis a reward in itself.
“I see it as a blessing and opportunity for me,” Montgomery said. “It’s so reciprocal that you don’t feel like you’re wasting your time. You want to work harder.”
When Montgomery’s mother was diagnosed with leukemia, she saw how much organizations like Regional AIDS Interfaith Network can help both those who are ill and their families. She said that although her mother died, Montgomery felt blessed by the efforts of volunteers who reached out to her and her family.
“They’re not doing it as a job; they’re doing it because they want to,” Montgomery said. “It’s inspiring, and I wanted to do something like that.”
Rory Dunham, who also volunteers with the network, agreed.
“I believe my good fortune must be returned in some way,” said Dunham, a business operator.
He became involved in the organization through a friend who participated in the network’s Salute to Life Walk. Now he, too, is helping to coordinate the Wine & Art Auction.
“In one way or another, I think we are all affected by this disease,” Dunham said.