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DeLaCerda gives aid to HIV-positive

ROCK ISLAND -- Sometimes the way a house is furnished means more than just the chairs, paintings and mementos inside.

The DeLaCerda House is one of those places.

The chairs were all donated. The stained glass was made by a member of the board of directors. The red ribbon on the wall was made in memory of a friend who died of AIDS.

DeLaCerda, the Quad-Cities' only housing facility for HIV-positive people, gives clients a temporary home, and helps them find more permanent housing.

``We're pleased with what we have right here,'' board president Joan Russell said. ``We don't think this feels like an institution.''

Since DeLaCerda opened in May of 1996, 30 clients have lived there. Two have died.

The deaths have been difficult for everybody who worked with them or lived in the six-bedroom house with them, director Len Schade said.

``Both of these people were very special,'' he said. ``To watch them self destruct is tough. I knew them not just professionally, but personally too. I get very involved with the intricacies of clients' lives.''

Mr. Schade advises clients about public aid, social security and housing options. During their weeks and sometimes months at DeLaCerda, the names become people and the people become personalities.

HIV-positive people apply to live at DeLaCerda through AIDS Project, the DeLaCerda office or a social worker. Clients who can afford a housing fee pay it, but those who cannot are invited to live there anyway.

Along with their house key, new clients receive a short list of rules: They must be home by 10 p.m. They cannot have guests in their bedrooms with the door locked.

The best way for clients to get acclimated is getting to know other clients, Mr. Schade said. The residents usually show each other around and learn about each other's lives. If anybody gets sick, other clients often help.

``It becomes a small community because you're fighting the same disease -- the same problems,'' Mr. Schade said.

There is no typical client, he said. About 75 percent are men, but they have ranged in age from 21 to 60. Nobody is rejected.

The clients -- and the board -- depend a lot on donations and volunteers, Mr. Schade said. AIDS Project helps provide medical services, a local church brings evening meals and volunteers drive clients to appointments if they don't have cars.

DeLaCerda is exactly the kind of safe haven its founders hoped to create.

On the door of the old Rock Island home, a plaque says, ``Robb's House.'' Robb Dussliere, a Quad-Cities man with AIDS, was instrumental in planning the house during the early 1990s. He died three weeks before it opened.

Mr. Dussliere's original concept of opening a hospice was scaled down into a housing facility, Ms. Russell said. The founding group wanted to fill a void that AIDS Project and other area groups were not fulfulling.

``It was Robb's dream to have a hospice, a place where people could not only live, but feel comfortable in the final stages of AIDS,'' Ms. Russell said. ``They realized they needed to walk before they could run.''

Many of the early board members, including Ms. Russell, were included because they had children who were HIV positive, or had died of AIDS. Other members, like Mr. Dussliere, were HIV positive themselves.

As one of the early inspirers, Mr. Dussliere has lived on through his vision -- and through his parents. Lornie and Hattie Dussliere are spearheading a fundraising drive to gather the $60,000 DeLaCerda workers need to buy the house, which they have been leasing. The owner recently put it up for sale.

``It's surprising how generous people are,'' treasurer Ray Williams said. ``We get donations from $1 to $100. Every now and then we get a clinker of $500.''

DeLaCerda needs to be kept open because it is one-of-a-kind in the Quad-Cities, Mr. Schade said. Because he also is HIV positive, he understands how important it is to have help when you're suffering -- and to help others while you can.

``I want to give to the community before I have to take,'' Mr. Schade said. ``AIDS patients in the final stages always have to take. There's nothing pretty about it.''

-- By Laura Oppenheimer (January 22, 1998)

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