by James Leach
A beaming sun peers from behind a rain cloud on the two steel warehouse doors that open into the headquarters of the Children's Hope Foundation.
Behind the doors is a bright, high-ceilinged open space with arching windows. From her desk in the corner, executive director Liza Josephson '88 can look out those windows and down Broadway and Houston Streets. Or she can look inside, to the crates of clothes and cribs and strollers and toys piled high along the walls, ready to bring a ray of hope to the next child from New York City who is diagnosed with HIV or AIDS.
"I always knew I'd be in some form of social service," said Josephson, who started the Women's Help Center and worked as a resident adviser at Colgate. Out of college she carried a case load of 60 schizophrenic adults, then turned to fundraising and strategic planning for an array of public service agencies before Children's Hope Foundation came calling.
"I was very respectful of this job before I took it. I thought hard about whether, emotionally, I could handle working with kids with AIDS." Her earlier experiences convinced her she could. She has just finished her third year at the foundation, which has experienced a 50 percent growth in funding and services since she signed on.
"Our overall goal is to make life better for kids with AIDS," said Josephson. There are 3,400 of those children, infants to 12-year-olds, in the five boroughs of New York and Newark, NJ, where Children's Hope Foundation works. Many are indigent. Most are from families suffering the ravages of AIDS. Josephson and her three staff and 675 volunteers are a bridge to another world.
For families who can't afford a crib or a stroller, diapers or formula, clothing or books for their child with AIDS, Children's Hope Foundation delivers, on a day's notice, right to the door. Nearly all the foundation's goods and services have been donated or purchased at a deep discount. For some AIDS children, the only gift they'll see at Christmas is the one provided by Children's Hope Foundation.
Spending a day out with the kids is often more than a family with AIDS can manage, Josephson said. Children's Hope Foundation steps in and, on an average of once a week, offers some recreational activity that brings joy to the children's lives. Volunteers shower attention on the youngsters in a ratio that approaches one-to-one for groups that range from three and four up to several hundred. For those kids the foundation is a holiday party or a day at the zoo, and more importantly a friend who cares.
Once or twice a month, children with AIDS are tested for oxygen levels in
their blood. "The old way uses big, fat, painful needles," said Josephson. "If
you have to have that test every two weeks you're bruised and you hurt." A
pulse oximeter, which costs about $2,000, takes the test painlessly. For
hospitals and clinics that can't afford the equipment, Children's Hope
Foundation will make a donation through its medical equipment program. And not
just pulse oximeters, but everything from entire exam rooms down to
a $25 stethoscope -- whatever will make care faster and easier for kids in
If a family with AIDS has an emergency need for funds to pay the rent or utilities, to travel for service or to buy medication, the foundation can help through a fund managed by case workers. "We have a pre-approved list, and for anything that's not on the list, we're a phone call away," said Josephson. Last year the emergency grants topped $50,000.
At the request of advisory committees, the foundation has launched a new initiative in pain management aimed at training both families and health care professionals in the latest techniques for minimizing the victims' suffering. A day-long symposium featured leaders in the field who spoke for free to an audience of more than 150. In conjunction with Sloan-Kettering, the foundation is preparing a slide show for resident physicians at teaching facilities. "This program is moving us from the realm of things into the realm of ideas," Josephson said.
Recently, the foundation has been cooperating with the Incarnation Children's Center to develop a program aimed at helping parents deal with telling their children they are HIV-positive. "Disclosure programs are new," said Josephson. "Nobody knows for certain what works or how to do it well, largely because it is personal and individual for each situation. But for the families attending our program it seems to make a difference."
Directing a foundation with a small staff and many demands draws on all of Josephson's skills. "My typical day is doing 30 things at once," she said. "I spend lots of time on the phone -- with caseworkers and doctors and volunteers. I'm still managing a program or two, so I have the hands-on experience. I coordinate our strategic planning, I'm developing a personnel policy now. And I move boxes. It's funny when I have a meeting at a bank, so I wear a skirt, and then I have to come in and haul boxes all afternoon. But I like it that way."
The energy and growth in the organization keeps her going, but the job has its taxing emotional moments. "We are in the fortunate position of seeing the good side of people every day. That makes it possible for us to keep going. But
it does come crashing in every now and then, the reality of the fact that you are working for kids who are dying."
After not being with the children in a while, Josephson recently spent a day with them at a carnival. "It was one of those perfect days in life where everything is right," she recalled. "It was supposed to pour and it was beautiful. There was not a hitch. Hundreds of kids had a great time. Then I went home and cried all night."
The average stay for executive directors of AIDS organizations is two years, Josephson said. "To do this work well you have to care," she said. "Three years seemed like an eternity when I took the job. Now it's here and I can't believe it. At this point it feeds me more than it drains me. But there will come a time when I should do something else. And then the energy of a new person will be something better.
"But I've still got a lot left." And that provides hope for some children who have a true need.