HUNTERSVILLE – A stigma remains attached to HIV/AIDS that still permeates the country.

Some say it was at its most serious in the 1980s, and due to that, it’s no longer a major concern.

Dale Pierce and Kareem Strong are determined to prove the illness is still a threat, and they want to make things better for victims. 

Pierce founded Different Roads Home, a Huntersville-based nonprofit that works with HIV-stricken Lake Norman residents as well as those who support them. Strong is the organization’s director of programming.

The organization offers support services, one-on-one help, nutrition assistance and mentoring programs for those living with the illness. The nonprofit, located off Brookway Drive, opened January 7.

"We're trying to give wraparound services, things a general medical clinic may not have time to do," Pierce said. "There's the medical component (of HIV/AIDS care), but there's the well-being to consider, too."

It’s a worthy cause, Strong said, because people don’t realize the impact HIV/AIDS has on the region and the country.

“The stigma is still alive,” he said. “It is definitely not prevalent to the degree it was in its early years, but it’s still an issue. To my knowledge, there’s no other center near here that offers what we offer.”

While it’s rarely a national news story now, Strong said HIV is still a threat to individuals and communities. 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Avert, two organizations who research the illness, released studies that back Strong’s claim.

Avert reported a total of 48,600 new HIV infections in 2006. That number ballooned to 56,000 in 2007, and remained stagnant in the 47,000-48,000 range until 2011. The CDC reported 49,273 people were diagnosed with the illness that year.

North Carolina, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, was the ninth-most diagnosed state in the country in the KFF’s most recent report in 2010, with 979 new cases reported. 

“Everything we can do to help is important,” Strong said.

“Food and housing for this community is a big component. The support groups we’re building are as well. We’ve got support groups now for the supporters: those who are living with someone who is afflicted. It’s a serious cause.”

Different Roads Home recently began a food drive to benefit those it serves, which Strong said became a welcome addition.

“People support the things we’re doing,” he said. “Referrals are coming in. The people here are behind us 100 percent.”

Strong got his start in the HIV support services when he was a high school student peer educator growing up in Philadelphia – one of the nation’s most HIV/AIDS-stricken cities.

He said he enjoys working with Pierce, who helped found the Rosedale Infectious Diseases clinic in 2006. Pierce still manages the clinic, which is a separate entity. Rosedale is located at 103 Commerce Centre Drive, Huntersville.

“I love working with Dale. It’s been great,” he said. “He and I have the same vision.”

In addition to increasing their work with HIV/AIDS patients, they're hoping expand their vision and mission to include cancer victims in the future. 

“Different Roads Home is going to make a lasting impact, because no one is doing what we’re doing,” Strong said.

“I’m looking forward to the ride.”

Want to learn more?

Visit www.differentroadshome.org for more information. Different Roads Home is located at 15905 Brookway Drive, Suite 4203,  Huntersville. Call 704-237-8793 for more details.