In May 1969, Robert Rayford died in St Louis, Missouri, and was the first known person to die of HIV in the United States.
HIV did not garner widespread public attention until the early 1980’s when there were rare cases of a lung infection called Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), and reports of an unusually aggressive cancer named Kaposi’s Sarcoma in previously healthy gay men on the east and west coast of United States.
By 1982, a number of other countries began reporting AIDS cases, and it became a global epidemic. The next year the Center for Disease Control (CDC) identified all known routes of transmission, and ruled out transmission by casual contact, food, water, air or surfaces.
The first Executive Director, Virginia Allen, was hired in August. In the early days, the month to month financial needs of GSP were largely funded by the gay community and private donors.
In 1988, the office relocated from the basement of Good Samaritan House to 3940 Walnut in Kansas City, Missouri.
Kansas City-area teenagers responded to the need for more volunteers by creating the TEENS T.A.P. program. Community requests for education increased and a Speakers’ Bureau was founded. At the same time, a pamphlet on safer sex practices encouraging use of condoms was a controversial subject and the organization was threatened with a lawsuit by parents of a sophomore class from Independence, Missouri.
In May of 1995, the agency expanded its footprint to occupy the entire 3030 Walnut building, where the organization would reside for 29 years.
GSP opened its first office in Kansas in October of 1997 to better serve that community through Case Management, and also expanded its work in Prevention for at-risk populations throughout the metropolitan area.
In 1998, with the advent of protease inhibitors to treat HIV, many individuals experienced improved health outcomes. GSP initiated a cutting-edge program called DREAM Job Network, which was a comprehensive program assisting those living with HIV to enter the workforce.
UNAIDS estimated that 30 million people had HIV worldwide equating to 16,000 new infections a day.
Ryan White funding for the Kansas City region was cut significantly with a reduction of $120,000 for GSP. The community rallied around the organization to support the annual fundraising event, Corks and Canvas, with a 46% increase over the previous year.
During that time, the organization launched a Spanish language campaign raising HIV/AIDS awareness in the Latino community.
Kathleen Cooper retired after 13 years with the organization, and Director of Finance, David Schlomer, stepped into the role of Chief Executive Officer.
The organization hosted its first Dining Out for Life event in 2011, with seven restaurants participating, and Bryan Busby, Chief Meteorologist at KMBC, as the first Honorary Chair. The following year there were over 30 participating restaurants.
The CDC awarded a 5-year grant to GSP and KC Care Clinic for a collaboration targeting young African American Men Who Have Sex With Men.
Caroline Huffman was the recipient of HIV/AIDS Hero Award given annually by Calvary Community Outreach Network.
GSP relocated to 50th and Prospect in December 2018. The organization is now located in zip code “64130”, which is one of two zip codes in the Kansas City area with the highest population living with HIV/AIDS, and also the lowest life expectancy in Kansas City. The new bright orange building is a reflection of the bold step the organization is taking to go where the greatest needs are.
In April 2019 the new name, Thrive Health Connection, was announced publicly to reflect expanded programming and the evolution of HIV/AIDS.
The organization turned 35 in May 2019!
Thrive Health Connection continues to expand services by hiring 2 part-time Mental Health Clinicians who provide services on-site, and also offering a Transgender Psycho-Educational Group.
On July 18, 2019, the CDC updated its website to say, “A person with HIV who takes HIV medicine as prescribed and gets and stays virally suppressed or undetectable can stay healthy and has effectively no risk of sexually transmitting HIV to HIV-negative partners.”
According to UNAIDS, there are 37.9 million people globally living with HIV. It’s estimated that 74.9 million people globally have become infected with HIV since the start of the epidemic and 32 million have died from AIDS-related illnesses.
The last 35 years was made possible because of supporters like you. Our work is not over. Please make an investment in Thrive Health Connection today and help build the next 35 years.