FORT WALTON BEACH — A local organization that has supported people with AIDS and HIV for two decades might soon close its doors if new revenue sources are not found.
Okaloosa AIDS Support & Informational Services, or OASIS, announced the possible closure during a news conference Christmas Eve.
“We can get through this month and probably next month, but after that there’s no guarantees unless something changes in the picture,” said Bruce McKay, executive director of OASIS. “I’m not saying we’re closing. I’m saying there’s a possibility of it if we don’t get some help.”
The nonprofit group was founded in 1991. In addition to providing services for people with HIV or AIDS, it also focuses on prevention and raising awareness.
People living in Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton and Escambia counties use OASIS for free HIV testing and services such as counseling and education. This year alone, OASIS has given more than 900 free HIV tests and is helping more than 200 people manage HIV/AIDS.
OASIS also hosts the annual Positive Living Conference, which is considered the oldest and largest conference for HIV positive people in the nation, McKay said.
LaSonja Allen, who has been going to OASIS for support for many years, said its possible closure would create an almost impossible situation for her and all the other HIV positive people in the area.
“They treat you like you’re somebody,” Allen said. “I can’t even imagine what would happen to me (if OASIS closed) because I depend on OASIS for comfort … We’re family.”
According to McKay, the financial situation was created by a perfect financial storm within the government agencies OASIS depends on for grants.
Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cut $208,000 in funding to the organization. This year, the state is expected to cut funding by about $38,000.
So far, the cuts haven’t affected client services, but the lack of funding for administrative positions, supplies, utilities and rent is taking a toll. For the last year, OASIS has been operating with about a $7,000 deficit of its $22,000 monthly operating costs.
“We can’t resolve (the deficit) with bakes sales,” said OASIS board member Steve Medina, who added that the group has used such methods in the past.
Medina and McKay said it was a difficult decision for the relatively private organization to reach out to the public, but ultimately it was necessary.
“We don’t think it’s just our organization that’s in peril,” Medina said. “We feel like it’s something the community has an interest in … Organizations like this helped us to learn these are our brothers and sisters and neighbors, and we shouldn’t turn our backs on them.”
According to McKay, cash donations would make a difference, but what OASIS needs most is a donated office space to work in so it can eliminate rent costs, which are no longer covered under most grants.
“I’m hopeful that we can get through this, that we can weather the storm,” McKay said. “I still believe in miracles, I’ve seen too many not to.”
WANT TO HELP?
Contact Butch McKay at (850) 314-0950 or email the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Katie Tammen at 850-315-4440 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @KatieTnwfdn.