You Should Know: Alan Jones

Alan Jones has dedicated the last 25 years to helping clients at the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force.



PHOTO courtesy pittsburgh aids task force


When reports of AIDS began filling news headlines in the early 1980s, Alan Jones told his friends he didn’t think it was anything to worry about. That began to change after an evening on a nightclub dance floor, where he was informed a neighbor had died after contracting the disease.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ This wasn’t just something you were seeing on the news,” says Jones, 59. “Then one of my best friends from my college days had AIDS. It was a real thing that was happening.”

Jones — who had worked at state hospitals for 10 years — began volunteering in 1990 with the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force in East Liberty. He worked with the speaker’s bureau to go into public settings to promote education about HIV and AIDS before being hired in 1991 as a caseworker. He now has been with the PATF, which offers free services and testing for certain STDs, for 25 years. This year, the nonprofit organization plans to open a clinic offering treatment for STDs.

Within weeks of joining the organization full time, Jones had a caseload of 102 clients.

“Usually a full caseload for a social worker is considered 25 to 40, tops. Not only did I have 102, but they all had AIDS — and on one level or another were all dying,” he says.

During the early days of Jones’ career, knowledge about HIV and AIDS was limited, and working around naivety and stigma made it challenging to link clients with services. Jones recalls stories of client’s families leaving paper bags with food on doorsteps and other clients being relegated to using separate bathrooms and plates. Some people with the disease were not accepted into nursing homes, and some who had died from the disease were turned away from funeral homes.

“People at that time were still very naive as to what causes HIV, how does it spread,” Jones says. “It’s interesting to me because up until I was 25, 26 years old, no one had even heard of HIV or AIDS. It would be like totally inventing a new disease today.”

Throughout the last 25 years, however, Jones has witnessed progress in terms of support, education and health care.

“It’s very different than it was 25 years ago. That makes me happier,” he says. “I will say my life has been empowered working here.”
 



 

What has been the most challenging part of working at the PATF?  
One was stigma. I’ll just give an example: I was getting my car worked on, and I asked [the shop] to call me when they figured out how much it might be. When I went to pick up the car later, the guy said to me, “Where do you work?” because the receptionist had answered, “Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force.” You could tell that immediately made him uneasy, and he was only working on my car. I think the stigma is definitely the biggest, and sometimes lack of resources. In the early days, medicines were always very expensive. HIV meds could easily be $2,000 a month.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your work?
I’ve learned that we all assume we’re going to live forever, and the truth is that life goes as quick as a flickering lamp. I say this to everybody, but I’ve got a real appreciation of life … One of my clients said to me once, “Alan, I’m going to be gone soon, but I’d like to think that you can live for me in some way.”

Do you have a client story that sticks out as the most memorable?
I remember a woman who had never accepted her son being gay … her son was dying of a disease she was ashamed of … Months later, after he died, she called me and thanked me for taking care of him. She said to me, “I learned a horrible lesson. I learned you should always love people for just who they are and be happy with just the way life is.” I could tell she had a lot of remorse.

What has changed for you over the years?
When I first started testing and I had to tell someone they were HIV-positive, it was horrible for me … Now I still feel horrible — and no one wants to hear those words — but I think of two things now. First, it’s good that [people know] because they can protect themselves from reinfection or from infecting other people. Most importantly, they can go into care and have a lifespan ahead of them.  
 

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Food Truck Park Coming To Millvale

Food Truck Park Coming To Millvale

The venue will feature food truck stalls, beer vendors and entertainment.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Feast Series Returns to Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland This September

Feast Series Returns to Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland This September

The third iteration of the series will feature chef J.J. Johnson, formerly of The Cecil and Minton's Supper Club in Harlem.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Read on for some under-the-radar ideas on how you and the kids can survive a rainy day this summer.

Comments


Tres Rios Has Potential, But Hasn't Distinguished Itself Just Yet

Tres Rios Has Potential, But Hasn't Distinguished Itself Just Yet

The tacos-and-tequila bar and restaurant on the South Side doesn't do anything wrong, exactly, but has room to grow.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Who Belongs on a Pittsburgh Steelers Mount Rushmore?

Who Belongs on a Pittsburgh Steelers Mount Rushmore?

As the team prepares the inaugural class of its Hall of Honor, Mike Prisuta selects the four members of the Steelers family most deserving of inclusion.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Make a Trendy Transition into Fall Style

Make a Trendy Transition into Fall Style

No. 14 Boutique in Lawrenceville put together this chic outfit for the tricky period when summer cools into autumn.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
A Hitman and His Bodyguard Get Into Trouble (No Need to Overcomplicate Things)

A Hitman and His Bodyguard Get Into Trouble (No Need to Overcomplicate Things)

Reviews of "The Hitman's Bodyguard" and "Wind River," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Delicious Design: Our Cookie Table Contest Winner & Runners-Up

Delicious Design: Our Cookie Table Contest Winner & Runners-Up

These Pittsburgh couples certainly know how to bring the cookie table tradition to life.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Produced in Pittsburgh: MONMade Takes Local Crafters National

Produced in Pittsburgh: MONMade Takes Local Crafters National

Close to a half dozen local businesses, among them Savannah Hayes and Stak Ceramics, will make their debut next week at the mega interior design and home goods-focused show in New York City.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

School trustees voted this week to increase tuition for in-state and out-of-state students.

Comments

Edit Module

Edit Module