Her left leg, encased in a brace, sways as she wobbles around with crutches greeting volunteers, staff and guests. Her short-cropped, thick brown hair rests over a face set with a constant smile. She’s short and petite, reaching barely at chest level of everyone she talks to. But don’t be fooled by appearances. Cathy Woolard is an Atlanta political legend whose strength belies her stature.
On Monday, Woolard became the interim executive director for AID Atlanta, the largest non-profit in the southeast dedicated to servicing individuals with HIV/AIDS and raising awareness about the disease to reduce new cases.
The organization celebrated it 30 year anniversary yesterday, with an open house offering tours of its center on 1605 Peachtree St in downtown Atlanta. An award granted to the organization by the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta will be used to assess the non-profit’s changes, and to help find a permanent executive director.
“I really enjoy getting in with an organization for six months to a year, and helping do a turnaround or change project,” said Woolard.
As a non-profit consultant, the Georgia native has worked and advised for several non-profit and advocacy organizations during her career including: Human Rights Campaign, Georgia Equality, CARE, Planned Parenthood of Georgia, Metro Atlanta Arts and the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.
As a woman and “out” lesbian, she has made history by aquiring many political firsts for the state of Georgia.
In 2004, she ran as the first openly gay candidate for Georgia Congress against Cynthia McKinney for the 4rth district seat. In 2002, she became the first woman and openly gay president of the Atlanta City Council. In 1997, she became Georgia’s first openly gay elected official, representing District 6 at the Atlanta City Council.
Woolard loves what she does for a living. Her reason for doing the work she does — simple.
“I like to work in places where people are pitching in to make the world a better place,” said Woolard.
Woolard has a personal connection to AID Atlanta. Her partner, Karen Geney, was one of the first social workers for the organization, who later worked at the state AIDS project in the late 80’s when the HIV/AIDS epidemic was at its height.
“I grew up in era where everybody died. Everybody died.” said Woolard. “My whole cohort of male friends died. And I really miss them.”
At a 24-hour rally at the state capital in May of 1988, where drag performers performed on the state capital steps, Woolard met Geney. The rally was a call for state representatives to provide government funding for HIV/AIDS treatment, research and services. Twenty four years later, they are still together. Married in Canada, the couple now calls Glenwood Park, Atlanta home.
When asked what her primary concern is coming into AID Atlanta, Woolard answered:
“To try to find the funding to serve all the people who have need,” she said. “We have not gotten to the point where we’re so big that we are covering all the bases.”
It’s an incredible challenge as the economy has forced both government and private sources to cut funding. Woolard will work to bring in resources, whether it’s money, volunteers or donated services to help address a need beyond what the organization provides.
About 400 HIV-positive individuals receive medical care through the organization’s primary clinic. However, about 4000 individuals with the disease are serviced through the center and referred to other organizations for medical assistance. And thousands more call or visit, asking for everything from anti-viral drugs, to housing and food.
“The disease doesn’t have borders anymore,” said Woolard.
Individuals young, old, gay, straight, black, white, female and male are all becoming infected with HIV/AIDS. In Atlanta, young women of color, African American and Latino, is the demographic with some of the highest number of new cases. “Getting to Zero” is the motto for World Aids Day coming up this Saturday. It’s a goal and affirmation to reach a point when there are no new cases of infection.
The underlying mission of AID Atlanta is to stop the spread of the disease by raising awareness, and according to Woolard the best way to do this:
“Be very comfortable negotiating your sexual practices in a way that’s erotic but safe,” said Woolard.
image by: thegavoice.org