TPAN's Legacy: 30 YEars of Hope
Learn more about Chris Clason and the founding of TPAN. Read "How One Person Can Make a Difference" from the Positively Aware archives.
Committed to Living: A legacy of empowerment
TPAN was founded in 1987 as the Test Positive Aware Network during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It was a place for HIV-positive people to share vital information and find peer-support, in a time when fear, misinformation, and rampant discrimination in the healthcare system contributed to countless lives lost. To address a painful void of care and support in Chicago, community leader Chris Clason turned to his peers - many themselves living with HIV & AIDS - to build a foundation of care for others. As TPAN’s founder, Clason began with an ad in a magazine, which developed a mailing list, which led to a meeting. His vision and hard work, along with that of so many volunteers, turned into a highly mobilized, peer-led and community-based organization that served as a lifeline to thousands of people. That meaningful beginning has evolved into the small but mighty organization and national publication you see today.
Clason described the organization as “a space for our membership to come to share how they take care of themselves.” Self-empowerment remains a key value for the agency. We provide information and access to care with an attention to efficacy and a non-judgmental philosophy.
“I’m always impressed at the kindness and knowledge of the staff. I come here and never feel judged. I am always treated with respect and the staff is very knowledgeable and friendly”– TPAN client
Founded as a grassroots resource for those struggling with an HIV diagnosis, Clason felt TPAN’s purpose was two-fold: "to provide information, but to support fellowship too. I wanted a place where I could talk to other people and develop some friendship with those who understood the kinds of questions I'm dealing with and the kind of process I'm going through." Our knowledgeable staff and therapist- and peer-lead groups provide that support. 97% of therapy clients report that their therapist is easy to talk to.
“Total support. It’s like having a second family.”
– TPAN client
Adapting to our community’s needs
As treatment for HIV has improved, and HIV-positive people who take their medications are living longer, TPAN’s work has expanded. We follow Clason’s advice: "listen to the membership, to hear what people say. Look and see what draws people in, what satisfies them and provide that."
While HIV is a common concern for our clients, it is not the only issue we address. Today, almost 30% of those who visit TPAN are homeless, and many are coping with mental health or substance use issues. The average client has an annual household income of $15,000. TPAN’s free services address co-occurring conditions faced by HIV-positive and vulnerable individuals—HIV stigma, mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness, unemployment, extreme poverty and inadequate access to healthcare. We are committed to meeting our clients' needs, whatever they may be.
Staff are trained to work with clients using a holistic approach, which allows medical, social, emotional, and psychological problems to be addressed simultaneously. This client-centered approach addresses various clinical complexities and treats the whole person, not simply parts of the person or their individual illnesses or problems.