When the chance to fulfill a long-held dream of passion came knocking for Berry Stevenson, executive director of Greater Community AIDS Project, he just could not say no. Leaving the comfort of his previous job, Berry took a leap of faith and off he soared. As the executive director of Great Community AIDS project, or GCAP, Berry is a one man show, acting as a coordinator, mentor, and in some people’s eyes, savior for a group of people who have been otherwise stigmatized by our society for decades. It was my honor to be able to sit down with Berry, in between his many meetings and appointments, and talk about the journey that brought him to Champaign and ultimately GCAP as well as learn about all of the wonderful things he does and what we can look forward to seeing in the future from GCAP.
Tell me about yourself and how you got started with GCAP?
My name is Berry Stevenson some like to call me BeiJai’. I’m honored to serve as the Executive Director of Greater Community AIDS Project of East Central Illinois (GCAP). I’m from Chicago Illinois though I was born and partly raised in Bloomington, Illinois. Before moving to Champaign, I lived in Peoria for four years only because I took a job at the Catholic Diocese of Peoria. I soon met the love of my life Dr. Mark S. Butler Jr. who lived in Champaign. When I first moved to Champaign, I worked for a few places and didn’t feel the vibe, so I moved around, I have to feel the vibe and have passion for anything I’m involved in. I started working at Carle Foundation Hospital in Auxiliary/Volunteer Services, my job encompassed coordinated recruitment, onboarding and compliance of volunteers, and I absolutely loved my job – I had a phenomenal boss (Shout out to Eric Tolliver) and enjoyed working with the volunteers and my colleagues. I truly enjoyed working at Carle and loved my job. It’s always been my dream to own my own company or run my own non-profit. So, one day I’m on Indeed being nosey and I see that GCAP is hiring for an Executive Director. I read the job description, and something kept tugging at me saying this is it this is your chance you can and will do it. I tried my best to ignore this voice because I loved my job at Carle but this voice just would not leave me alone. So, just about a year ago I submitted my application and here I am today.
What does GCAP do and what services do you provide our community?
Since its November 1985 GCAP has been on the frontlines defending East Central Illinois (Champaign County, Coles County, DeWitt County, Douglass County, Edgar County, Ford County, Iroquois County, Livingston County, Piatt County and Vermilion County) against HIV/AIDS. More than thirty-eight years later, we are winning some battles, but the war is far from over. GCAP’s mission is not only to educate all citizens about the deadly virus and disease, but also to provide direct support to people living with HIV/AIDS (and their loved ones) and act as a public voice on behalf of all those affected. We do this by collaborating with social service agencies and health care providers, and by raising funds for donations, memorials, and grant writing.
Our services offered consist of:
- GCAP – Peer Counseling: where staff/volunteers and others living with HIV are here to listen and offer advice, when solicited, in the wide variety of challenges that may be faced by clients. Lived experience can sometimes yield the best advice.
- GCAP – Emergency Assistance: provides financial assistance for yearly bus passes, medical/prescription co-pays, and past due rent and/or utilities. GCAP – Nutrition (Harvest to Home Food Pantry): offers once-monthly visits to our food pantry to select from staple food items. Assistance is also provided for purchasing necessary supplements such as Ensure and Boost.
- GCAP – Champaign House: we maintain a five–bedroom eight bed transition home that has seen over one hundred plus people walk through its doors since opening in 1993. The house provides short to medium term housing for those who are homeless with no place else to turn.
GCAP also participates in numerous other supportive housing programs in the area. GCAP-Education/Outreach/ Advocacy: Annually we speak with over one hundred plus people living with HIV in our area about empowering their lives. We also speak with over five hundred plus people in the community about HIV stigma, prevention and how they can help by volunteering. We work on the local, state, and national levels to ensure legislation is proactive towards the needs of those living with HIV, for the elimination of stigmatizing laws, and adequate funding for HIV related programs. GCAP also works with those living with HIV to ensure they are getting the care and supportive services needed. Feel free to check out our website for additional information. I think that about some’s up our programs and services.
What does a day in the life of the executive director of GCAP look like?
No day is ever the same. I wear a lot of hats as I am a paid staff of one. I plan out my day and something else might come up and I roll with it. Multitasking is essential in my role and being able to pick up where you may have left off deal with something else that may have needed immediate attention. I must admit though our volunteers are awesome, and I could not do what I do without their loyalty and dedication to the program and those we serve. GCAP totally depends on volunteers to aid and assist with our programming. I am happy to serve and use my gifts to help those who need them most.
What is your motivation to do this job?
I stay motivated because of the people we serve, and the difference made in their life. It’s important to keep the community educated on HIV/AIDS, break the stigma, and stop the spread of the disease and false information about the disease. HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence. There are people who have had it, who take their medication, live a healthy lifestyle and you would never know unless they tell you! So, I stay motivated because I like to make a difference and affect positive change. Just knowing that I have helped to affect positive change is like a breath of fresh air and why I get up every day and do what I do!
What is coming down the pipeline for GCAP?
We are bringing back Artists Against AIDS 2023 on a smaller pop-up shop scale this year. This program has different artists coming together to showcase their artistic talent and sell their art. All proceeds would go to the support programming for GCAP. Our planning committee meets the second Monday of the month at Champaign Public Library at seven o clock in one of the conference rooms for those interested in being involved just show up and show out! Well, if you like to Craft and Sip. GCAP is Partnering with Creative Paper Crafting Boutique LLC. (Owner: Dr. Mark S. Butler Jr.) to do a fundraiser for GCAP. Participants will have an opportunity to do cardmaking and a bonus craft while enjoying wine and refreshment. More information will be available soon so watch our social media pages. We are always looking for those willing to volunteer in any capacity of programming that we offer at GCAP in addition to becoming a member of GCAPs Board of Directors.
What do you do when you are not at work?
I am a musician; I play the piano and organ. I love anything and everything to do with choirs and music. I have directed countless mass choirs and taught music in many churches and would like to get back into that one day. I love spending time with the love of my life and our two children, wine tasting, traveling to new places, experiencing new cultures and good food. I’m all about trying new things and meeting people who can share their stories. I am firm believer you never stop learning, enjoying and appreciating life. It’s not all about the little things, it’s quality time. I live by the saying do unto others as you would have them do unto you and treat folk better than they ever expect to be.