Tom Bartenbach was first introduced to The Damien Center when he was the owner of Bartenbach’s Food Emporium. Howard Warren, former Director of Pastoral Care at the Damien Center from 1989 to 1999, had asked him to donate food to those in need after an HIV/AIDS diagnosis. It was an opportunity for Bartenbach to contribute to a cause he felt passionate about in a way that suited his temperament and skills.
“I’m not the type of person who could hold someone’s hands who’s dying of HIV or AIDS, but I can get the money to hire the person who can do it,” says Bartenbach.
Since 2009, Bartenbach has been the acting Executive Director of The Damien Center. He began his career as a bag boy at Preston Safeway, going on to purchase the store from its owners. He owned two Bartenbach’s Food Emporium grocery stores in the Indianapolis area before joining Indiana Cares as Executive Director in 1993. After his time with Indiana Cares came to an end, he made the move to Seattle, where he owned and operated an internet café for eight years. Eventually, he sold the café, and returned home to Indianapolis.
A living difference
For Bartenbach, the biggest difference between people living with HIV/AIDS in the late 80’s and people living with HIV now is the word “living.”
“In the 80’s no one was living with HIV/AIDS,” says Bartenbach. “They were dying from it. Quickly and sadly.” Well into the 90’s, The Damien Center’s executive employees had an average turnover rate of 36 months due to burnout or death from HIV/AIDS health complications. As a gay male himself, Bartenbach lost many friends to AIDS during those decades.
Today, people living with HIV/AIDS can experience the same life expectancy rates as those living without the virus. In some cases, new medications have made it possible to render the virus undetectable, and, non-transferable, up to 95% of the time.
New programs, new futures
Because of these exciting strides in the field, the Damien Center is committed to providing treatment and care to their clients and to preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS in Indianapolis.
One of the programs The Damien Center has developed to help meet this goal is called Linkage to Care. The Health Foundation of Indianapolis gave The Damien Center $200,000 for this program, and AIDS United out of Washington D.C. matched their contribution. This program was designed to be a lot more hands-on for those requiring extended assistance to receive treatment. “We literally will pick up the client and take them wherever they need to go.”
The Damien Center already provides testing, housing assistance, counseling, legal advice, and a food bank on their premises. Bartenbach is already exploring new ways to extend the reach of their services. In the near future, the center hopes to expand clinic hours to be available five days a week, meaning more people get tested, and more people get treated.
“In a given state, 20% of the population doesn’t know they’re HIV positive. That 20% is responsible for 60% of new infections,” explains Bartenbach.
Support the cause
All of the hard work provided by the team at The Damien Center is in steady pursuit of their goal to boldly, proactively, and persistently respond to the changes in the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Central Indiana. Learn how you can support the cause here.