Countless clients credit Bethany Place with saving their lives.
The Belleville-based nonprofit is dedicated to serving neighbors affected by HIV/AIDS in 11 counties throughout the Metro East. Founded in 1988 by Sisters Mary Rombach and Carol Baltosiewich of the Franciscan Third Order of Hospital Sisters, the facility began as an outpatient hospice service and healing ministry for Belleville’s St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. Incorporated as a nonprofit in 1992, the organization has grown to serve thousands of clients on their road to wellness.
Bethany Place opens its doors to HIV/AIDS patients, providing comprehensive programming, including case management, transitional housing, independent lifestyle skills, rental and utility assistance, and a food pantry. In addition, the facility offers free HIV and hepatitis C testing. The services give clients a safety net, supporting them along the journey to a healthier lifestyle, says executive director Angela Barnes. “We provide clients with the support they need to maintain the highest possible quality of life.”
Through education and outreach programs at schools and churches, the organization also spreads a message of drug prevention. That message struck a chord with a client named Carl. After becoming involved with a gang, struggling with drug addiction and being diagnosed with HIV and bipolar disease in 2011, he found a safe haven in Bethany Place last year. It’s now a place he calls “home.” The organization connected Carl, 34, with life-changing services, including HIV care and psychiatry treatment. Now enrolled in school to obtain his GED, his goal is to become a welder.
Another client, Dana, also holds a special place in her heart for Bethany Place. An unhealthy family environment led her to drug use, prostitution and incarceration. She was diagnosed HIV-positive in 1999. “I decided I had to make a change,” she says. Bethany Place’s transitional housing and services helped to get her life back on track. With the nonprofit’s support and encouragement, Dana earned a medical administration degree and certified nursing assistant license. But after three years of successfully living on her own, she became homesick. After moving near her family again, she fell back into negative habits. “I stepped back and realized this is not what I wanted or deserved.” So she returned to Bethany Place. With the nonprofit’s guidance, Dana recalls regaining her self-esteem, a job that she loves and a positive support system.
Every time Barnes hears one of her client’s success stories, she says it is rewarding. The impact on each person is ten-fold, as it extends to their families and surrounding community, she adds. “For clients, this is a place of refuge. They may have been ostracized from their family or fired from their job. There is no discrimination here and there are people they can talk to. It boosts their self-esteem.” And after nine years at the nonprofit, Barnes says she can’t imagine doing anything else.
Bethany Place raises funds and HIV awareness through various events, including an annual fashion show. For more information about Bethany Place, call 618-234-0291 or visit bethanyplace.org.
Volunteer Spotlight: Sister Thomas Kundmueller
Sr. Thomas Kundmueller is not one to boast of her accomplishments. But, then again, she doesn’t have to. An extensive string of client success stories during her 24 years of service at Bethany Place speaks for itself.
The humble, hardworking volunteer is among dozens of dedicated staff at the nonprofit, which provides help to HIV/AIDS patients. “It takes a certain kind of person to serve our clients,” executive director Angela Barnes notes of Kundmueller and the other volunteers. “They are empathetic and encouraging. They really put themselves in the client’s shoes—and that makes all the difference in the world.”
During Kundmueller’s long history with the organization, the registered nurse has provided clients with health advice and access to life-saving medications. As a member of the St. Clair/Madison County HIV Care Consortium, Bethany Place receives funding from Ryan White Titles I and II for its clients’ medication.
Kundmueller says it’s the interaction with patients that keeps her coming back to volunteer for Bethany Place year after year. “I help them however I can, but really it is just about being there with them.” And that kind of medical and emotional support is rare. “This is the only place they have to turn in this area,” Kundmueller notes. “Some of them are even homeless. They go from having nothing to getting into our system that gives them the aid that they need.”
As part of Bethany Place’s mission, Kundmueller is proud to serve clients with compassion and justice, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, race or religion. “When you’re able to help people with a terrible disease like HIV, it’s very rewarding.”