The AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod (ASGCC) originally came about during the AIDS crisis. The agency’s roots are deeply rooted in harm reduction strategies for helping people living with HIV/AIDS and/or addictions, as well as HIV prevention programs. Beyond their services for living with HIV, most of their services in some way connect back to HIV prevention. As an example, a robust syringe services program is a critical step towards preventing transmission of HIV amongst people who inject drugs. ASGCC was one of the first two needle-exchange programs to open in Massachusetts, and they opened their Drop-in Center at 148a Commercial Street in 2017, where you can be tested for HIV as well as many other sexually transmitted infections. The environment and volunteers working in the Center are warm and friendly and supportive on so many levels. We wanted to take some time to talk with Dan Gates about how he came to work at ASGCC and about how the organization continues to grow and respond to community needs.
Provincetown Magazine: What brought you to start working with ASGCC?
Dan Gates: I moved to Provincetown full-time in 2012, looking to make a career change. I was diagnosed with HIV in the mid-1990s and knew firsthand the impact people working in the field of HIV have on our community, and I was fortunate enough to make my first exploratory conversation about this career change with one of the amazing Medical Case Managers at ASGCC, Jill Brookshire. At the time of that first meeting, I was unaware of the staggeringly significant work the agency does responding to the opioid epidemic, as well as services for people experiencing addiction, and so this resonated with my own lived experience with recovery and belief in the concept of harm reduction, meaning that individuals define their own recovery, and that there is more than “one door” to healing. It was serendipity that, at the time of my meeting with Jill, there was a role available for a Peer Program Coordinator, which allowed me to enter the field with relatively little experience in human services as the agency placed an emphasis on hiring folks from the communities we serve, recognizing that lived experience can be quantifiable and of value. From there, I went to grad school, receiving a master’s degree in Clinical Social Work, along with licensure. Over the years I changed positions within the agency, and in 2019 I moved into my current role as CEO. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work for such an amazing agency – the community of clients, volunteers and staff members is unlike anything I’ve experienced elsewhere. One word sums it up: community.
PM: Has the ASGCC’s clientele and role in the communities it serves changed over the years from its inception some 40 years ago?
DG: Yes and no. From its founding by Alice Foley in 1983, ASGCC (then called PASG: Provincetown AIDS Support Group) has had at its core a belief in providing services free of stigma and discrimination, whether that’s based on health status (there was an astounding level of stigma and fear towards people living with HIV back then), or other factors that define who you are, whether based on race, sexual orientation, gender identity, socio-economic status or one’s relationship with substances. Geographically we have changed enormously. From our early days as PASG, serving Provincetown and the Outer Cape, to now, ASGCC serves all of the Cape and Islands, with offices in Hyannis, Falmouth, Martha’s Vineyard, multiple sites in Provincetown, and now even two mobile outreach vans that take our services remotely, Cape-wide.
PM: One of the issues people are currently worried about is Monkeypox virus and that has a lot of attention. Can you shed some light on what we know and don’t know about how it is contracted, prevented, and treated?
DG: Our community’s response to the emergence of MPV (aka “monkeypox”) has been swift and something I’m very proud of. We were fortunate to have strong leadership from the earliest of days – back in May when there was only one confirmed case in Massachusetts – by Senator Cyr, Representative Peake, and our friends at DPH’s Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences, like Kevin Cranston. We were honored to be at the front of this from those earliest days, and thanks to the efforts of Sen. Cyr and others, were able to get the word out early, hosting our first community forums on MPV in June.
Of note, Provincetown was the home of the first MPV Vaccine Clinic in Massachusetts. Community partners have done, I think, a remarkable job building upon our learned experiences and community from not only the HIV epidemic, but of course from this town’s response to COVID-19. Outer Cape Health Services has done an amazing job of creating an MPV vaccine clinic here in town, and the partnership we’ve had in spreading the word has reminded me again of one of the things that makes Provincetown so special: community.
Lastly, for me, it’s all about vaccine access. While we’ve done a great job, we still need more vaccines. Due to the efforts of community leaders, Provincetown administered over 1800 doses of MPV within the first weeks of vaccine access. When folks ask me why our community is so efficient at embracing vaccine access, I personally think it has a lot to do with Provincetown’s lived experience of what an epidemic looks like when there’s NOT a vaccine. We are now 40+ years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic and there is still no vaccine. With that in mind, it’s no wonder so many of us are eager to be first in line when access to game-changing treatments is available, such as COVID-19 vaccines and now, of course, the MPV (monkeypox) vaccine.
PM: What are some ways people in the community can support ASGCC in your vital work on the Cape and Islands today?
DG: ASGCC’s deep roots are in this community have been a core part of our success. ASGCC is resource that folks here know they can rely on, and so many of our supporters live in town or they spend significant time here. We have an amazing team of volunteers who work with our food and nutrition program – particularly so as we’ve been delivering, on average, 50 meals daily since the onset of COVID – as well as with events, office support and more. Gifts from individual donors are vitally important to our organizational wellbeing, particularly as we have faced new demands over the past two+ years, first from COVID and now from MPV (monkeypox). Donations of all sizes are welcomed and greatly appreciated. We just launched our online shop last month, so now there’s a new way to support our work: shopping. We have a wonderful line of t-shirts, and our 2022 Artist Series Bandanas are now on sale. Every purchase benefits ASGCC and helps keep this organization and the communities we serve healthy and strong.
ASGCC continues to operate its Drop-in Center at 148a Commercial St., Provincetown, however, they will kick off their 40th year with a move to a larger, more central location at 301 Commercial St., Provincetown, on World AIDS Day, December 1st 2022. For more information about ASGCC, its programs, or to donate to the organization, visit asgcc.org. To volunteer call 508.487.9445.