Tag Archives: AIDS

Proud

The first person with HIV that Kristin Flickinger met was a 12-year-old boy named Carter who attended her small town school in Idaho. Flickinger, who was named executive director of the Pacific Pride Foundation in 2020, remembers the small boy sitting on the cold metal benches in the lunchroom with a backpack full of medication. She didn’t know if she should be afraid of him. 

“When we started back the following fall, Carter was gone,” Flickinger says. “I learned a lot from Carter. I learned you can’t get HIV from a water fountain, and I learned that you can’t be friends with someone if you are afraid of them.” 

Pacific Pride Foundation’s 2020 PROUD Prom with Ugg

The nonprofit she now runs launched in 1976 as an addiction recovery program for LGBTQ+ people. When the HIV/AIDS epidemic struck the gay community, Pacific Pride pivoted to meet the unfolding crisis.

For Flickinger, who oversaw the AIDS/LifeCycle event at the Los Angeles LGBT Center for more than seven years, the connection with HIV and the COVID-19 pandemic is visceral, and points to Pacific Pride’s unique capacity to serve those most in need. 

“We have been through a pandemic before, we know what it looks like,” the energetic leader says. “At a time when the LGBTQ community was suffering unimaginable loss, we came together to take care of each other.”

Before and through the days of COVID-induced lockdowns, Pacific Pride was there not only for the LGBTQ community, but for Santa Barbara’s most marginalized as well. For LGBTQ+ youth in Santa Barbara, research shows that 45.4% seriously consider suicide. Under stay-at-home orders, these young people were particularly vulnerable, so Pacific Pride used the telephone and Zoom to bring 33% more teens into its PROUD Youth Group. 

The nonprofit also deploys a “health utility vehicle” to conduct HIV testing and needle exchanges for the opioid dependent across the county. For Flickinger and her dedicated team this is all about “promoting wellness throughout all of our programs,” whether individual counseling, therapy groups, or addiction services.  

“We are there for the folks who need us the most, when they need us the most,” she says. 

More than 30 years after Flickinger hesitated to make friends with a 12-year-old boy named Carter, she is now bold and proud to do whatever it takes to help those in Santa Barbara County that are too often overlooked, untouched, and left to themselves. 

How Beautiful Death Can Be

While in her late 20s – some 17 years ago – Paloma Espino witnessed death for the first time. 

She was working at Sarah House, an eight-bedroom home not far from Hendry’s Beach in Santa Barbara that provided end-of-life care for the financially disadvantaged and those suffering from HIV/Aids. Espino’s first client was a man named Phil. 

“He was the most beautiful soul that I had ever met,” Espino says. “He was sweet and gentle and he was dying.” 

Phil had colon cancer. Within a week he was on his death bed. Espino and other Sarah House staff tracked down his sister in Las Vegas, and the Dream Foundation paid to fly her out. 

Phil’s favorite song was “Imagine” by the Beatles. As it played, with his long unseen sister kneeling by his side, Phil died. 

“I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life,” Espino says. “Death was scary to me. But when I saw Phil transition in such a beautiful and tender way, I realized how beautiful death can be.” 

Every year Sarah House provides a home to 70 or so souls who take their final breaths. Espino, now the house manager, and Sarah House’s 20 staff treat each individual with dignity and love, whether they are accepting of their coming death or fighting it and the staff till the end.

“I have learned that the meaning of extraordinary kindness at Sarah House is something that we should all incorporate into our lives, in all our interactions with others,” says the relative of a client who passed there. “I saw the unconditional love and acceptance open the heart of my brother in his last days and touch the hearts and minds of all his friends who witnessed the many acts of love he received. Thank you for giving my brother so much, as he had so little.”

The original mission of Sarah House and its founder Alice Heath was solely focused on care for people dying of HIV-AIDs. As new medications drove mortality rates down, the organization broadened its scope to hospice for people – like Phil – who too often find themselves alone in their final moments. 

For Espino, who has been there since day one of that transition, working at Sarah House has been an unending learning experience – a chance to practice love in the most fraught moments. 

“At the end of life, you just need a home,” she says. “Some place where people will care for you and love you.” That place is Sarah House.