If you’ve had the opportunity to meet Rick Marsden you would understand why he is considered an Aliveness Legacy. Before being diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure, you would find Rick volunteering every week at the front desk greeting members and scheduling appointments, but most importantly connecting with our members. Rick left quite an impact with some people one member said: “He always listened to me, not many people do that. Rick took the time to get to know me but Rick made me feel important”.

This week we gave Rick a call because we wanted to get to know him a little more. After catching up a little we asked Rick questions to learn more about why he loves the Aliveness Project.

How would you describe Aliveness? The Aliveness Project is a community center in the best sense of that phrase. It provides a stigma-free space for its members, volunteers, and staff. Over its history Aliveness has kept its mission focused firmly on its members.

What is your fondest memory of being at Aliveness? Gosh, great question. It’s really a collection of memories, more like a short story. First, let me tell you I was afraid to walk in the doors of Aliveness. I’m not a person living with HIV and I wasn’t sure if I would be welcomed or accepted. However, after my retirement I wanted something meaningful and worthwhile to do with my time. I gave it a shot and I am so glad I did. The first thing that struck me about Aliveness was the warmth and love everyone showed me. I thought to myself: “If this is the feeling I get when I come here, I wonder how members feel.” After meeting with the Volunteer Manager she thought I would be a good fit for the front desk. To be honest it sounded like a big task, I was hoping to stuff envelopes or something. Again, I said yes. Then I met Hanna; who doesn’t love Hanna right? She was a perfect mentor who encouraged me and was very patient. I learned quickly that you need to know a little bit of everything. After a few weeks of working the desk, I realized the best thing I could give our members was a warm hello and a smile. I made it a personal goal of mine to learn everyone’s first name. I learned the true value of a community center by listening to peoples’ struggles and hearing how they overcame them. I did my small part in confirming their dignity by listening to people.

What is one thing you learned while volunteering at Aliveness? Housing, Housing, Housing. I was amazed how many of the people I saw were homeless. Never in my life did I witness firsthand what the housing crisis looked like in this country. It was devastating to see, and I am proud that Aliveness is now providing housing assistance for the HIV community.

What would you say to someone who is newly diagnosed with HIV? These are great questions! Don’t give up and always continue to believe in yourself. When I was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure, I told myself: “I would keep living at all costs.” and that’s exactly what I have done. Living with HIV isn’t a death sentence anymore, and you have a lot of life to live, so go live it!

What do you hope for Aliveness’s future? In the long-run I would hope that we have no need for HIV-related services. In the shorter term, I trust Aliveness’s leadership will be agile in responding to the evolving needs of its members, particularly their significant transitional housing needs.

You can donate to Rick’s Legacy Fund by clicking here and help him provide transitional housing services for Aliveness members for many years to come.