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About Just out. (Portland, OR) 1983-2013 | View Entire Issue (Aug. 1, 1985)
H E L P
Portland PAL Project:
by W. C. McRae
The PAL project was begun last year to give
direct emotional and practical support to
persons in the Portland area with, and affected
There are 34 active PAL "matches" at pre
sent, according to co-ordinator Tia Plymp-
ton. Even though the PAL’ing concept ex
tends beyond those affected with AIDS, at this
time in Portland all PAL’ing is AIDS-associ
ated. About 70% of the matches are PWAs
(Persons With AIDS) and the remainder are
friends and loved ones of PWAs. A training
session for 11 new volunteers — three of
them women — has just been completed,
and another training will take place in Sep
tember. Call 223-5907 for information.
Plympton says that in matching PALs with
their "clients", the main consideration is of
ten geographic. Although the volunteer is gi
ven a chance to register preferences — gen
der, religion, non-smoking — transportation
and access to bus lines is often the most
important concern. PALs are generally sim
ply matched as the need arises.
But the needs — both for PALs and PWAs
— are many and diverse. One PAL volunteer,
Charley, said he volunteered because he had
friends in other parts of the country who were
affected by AIDS. He realized that, for many
with AIDS, “friends and family drop away"
because of the fear associated with the condi
tion. But helping others sometimes also fulfills
personal needs of the person providing the
help. In the case of another volunteer, Chuck,
his “ preoccupation” with AIDS led to his
realization that he needed to be directly in
volved with AIDS in the community, in order
to deal with his own anxiety.
Both Charley and Chuck say the training
had a tremendous effect on them. The train
ing stresses "death personalization" (a talk-
through simulation of the dying experience)
and includes programs designed to sensitize
the volunteer to the special fears, alienation
and emotional and practical problems that
accompany life-threatening conditions such
as AIDS. As he went through the training,
Chuck felt his own anxieties “ slipping away"
— he quotes an old Irish saying, "run from a
ghost and it follows you; face it, and it runs
Even though both volunteers felt the PAL
training prepares the volunteer sufficiently for
the counseling, it is impossible to prepare for
every circumstance. For Chuck, the first
phone call and contact were awkward, de
spite the urgency of the need and all his best
intentions. Charley and his “client," John,
didn’t experience any awkwardness — they
found they had met several years prev iously.
A PAL volunteers to be at the disposal of his
client four hours a week, and at first Chuck
found it too convenient to regard these hours
as "appointments ”, fixed in advance. Over a
period of time, they found that a specific time
to meet was artificial. When things are "going
well’’ the client may neither need nor want the
PAL; the PAL can too easily begin to represent
AIDS and its incursion into the lives of those
affected by it Resentment is possible. The
needs of the client must be addressed when
they arise, not at pre-assigned intervals.
Both PALS interviewed have become ex
O (I T
misunderstood, and generally the fear is
tremely close to their clients. The basis of the
PAL relationship is, after all, two human be
ings willing to share very personal feelings. "A
sort of bonding, a shared love, always takes
place when barriers are let down, when one
sees through another’s eyes," says Chuck. He
characterizes the simplicity of the PAL rela
tionship as "a walk in the park, long talks on a
park bench, a hug."
John says he has been luckier than some.
Though his family is out of town, his friends
are “ still there" for him, and he is currently
living with his lover. But “a lot of voids still
come up." For John, his PAL is someone to
talk to about things that he feels he can’t
burden his friends or lover with; he “ is some
one who’s always there."
AIDS creates a multitude of problems, not
all of which the PAL relationship can address
directly. Money becomes an immediate
problem, as does work. Though John only
works 10 hours a week, he wonders how
much longer he will be able to continue work
ing even part time. Working two hours a day
leaves him exhausted. He stresses that the
problems for PWAs are not all medical. An
extraordinary source of concern is getting
benefits from Social Security and Adult and
Family Services. AIDS is a sort of “ blind spot
of the social welfare system" says Charley,
“ and there is no consistency in the way the
system chooses to address people affected
For others the PAL is the only outlet
Charley says though, that the situation in
Portland is different than it has been in other
cities, such as New York and San Francisco,
where AIDS first surfaced. “There wasn’t so
much knowledge” as there is now. While it is
“ not pleasant to face,” the condition is not so
When a PAL volunteers, an agreement is
made to meet two hours a week with other
PALS in "peer counselng” sessions. The
empathy that PALS share in these sessions
results in what Chuck calls "ventilation.” The
meetings are not all doom and gloom, but
also laughter and playing. “We laugh a lot,"
Chuck says. While a PAL might seek advice
on issues that have become problematic, they.
don’t particularly talk specifics of their clients.
It is not a "gossip session" — confidentiality
is respected. “We meet for our own personal
support," says Charley. PWAs, and friends and
lovers, also meet regularly to exchange infor
mation and give support These meetings are
structured informally, according to John, of
ten attended by patients of a particular
Chuck admits that not everyone is suited to
be a PAL, but thinks that everyone could be
involved at some level with the AIDS crisis.
Charley says that the main attribute of a PAL
must be “ stick-to-itiveness” and that “you
have to do it for no other reason than to help.”
Although PAL volunteers must “ leave their
agendas at the door," volunteering can meet
a need of the PAL as well. For Chuck, initially
becoming involved with the PAL project “de
veloped a real sense of community" for him
in Portland. And — facing the ghost rather
than running from it — Chuck felt better
about himself and about his own "AIDS anxi
ety” knowing that he had confronted the
problem rather than “obsessing over one’s
Recently the PAL project was turned down
for a grant from the United Way. According to
Steve Fulmer, chairperson of the PAL project
the grant was turned down for two reasons.
F irst the United Way did not feel that the
structure of the counseling sessions consti
tuted “ professional services.” Even though
many of the PALs are indeed professional
social workers and therapists, it was felt that
the ways in which their skills are used is not
"professional. "It was also indicated that
insufficient time was spent in counseling
SEE VUE MOTEL
S a n d y ’s
R e c o rd e d
Secondly, the United Way was apparently
concerned with the “ proliferation of small
organizations dealing with individual
concerns." In the four county area, there
simply aren ’t enough people affected by
AIDS. “ United Way is not at the forefront of
social change," says Fulmer, and believes
that had the grant been given, it would have
been the first time the United Way had given
money to an openly gay concern.
Fulmer says the grant proposal will be re
submitted in January.
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Just Out. August. 1985