Filling the Gaps

The Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation celebrates 30 years of serving the community.

By: Bianca Galvan

The Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation (CBWF) is celebrating 30 years of providing services to the Coastal Bend community. Wanting to help people who were dying of AIDS, the CBWF (originally the Coastal Bend AIDS Foundation) began in 1986, with a group of people hand-delivering food and blankets from the trunk of a car. As time went on, the severity of AIDS became more significant, leading to a higher number of those affected by the disease, offering new funding for agencies, such as the CBWF, to grow and offer additional support and educational services for those living with HIV and AIDS.

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Since it began, the CBWF has helped hundreds of patients with HIV/AIDS in the Coastal Bend area gain education, support and medical services. “I love working for the Wellness Foundation,” said J.R. De La Garza, director of clinical services. “Since I started, it’s been phenomenal, and I never look back. We have multiple patients, one of which allowed us to share their family story at World AIDS Day last year.”

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In 2014, the parents of a 17-year-old boy admitted their son into Driscoll Children’s hospital, where he was diagnosed with HIV; he basically gave up on life after the information he received from the hospital. “I made a choice [then] to be there always if he made it through, or accept what was meant to be if he didn’t,” the young man’s mother admitted in her personal testimony.

After a few days in ICU, her son was moved back into a regular room, where a representative from the CBWF visited the family. “[De La Garza] is a very special person – someone that let off the acceptance, peace and calmness we needed at that moment – someone that had the kind of information we needed and could understand,” the mother said.

After their first visit with Dr. Kasper, the CBWF’s physician who specializes in HIV/AIDS, the family found a new hope. “Our first visit to the foundation was amazing … you instantly felt the love and passion this group of people have for what they do,” said the mother. The CBWF immediately began helping the young man gain control of the disease and the family live their lives again, even if it wasn’t your average kind of life.

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“Up until this point, HIV was something that happened to other people; it was not something that could ever happen to my family,” the mother said during her testimony of her family’s journey. “HIV does not only happen to someone else; it is not prejudice to you. It can happen to anyone! The Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation has so much information. Get informed! Get tested! Don’t wait until you have to!”
The CBWF services 388 people in the Coastal Bend region with HIV/AIDS, although the most recent statistics show that there are at least four times that amount of patients who have tested positive for the disease, but are not receiving support or medical services.

Today, the CBWF provides additional services to the 12 counties of the Coastal Bend, including outreach programs in youth education, women’s health, behavioral health, LGBT health and sexual health and testing. The main focus of the foundation is to identify gaps in the care systems of our community and fill those needs.

In August 2015, the foundation was pleased to announce that they are a fulltime primary health care facility, including pediatrics (children’s health), which serves 444 patients at this time. “We [CBWF] help anybody that walks through our doors,” De La Garza said. “We’re a health center, but we don’t have the ‘clinic’ mentality. Everybody is treated with dignity, and the utmost importance is placed upon them whether they can pay or not.”

With a goal of providing health care services to at least 3,000 residents of the Coastal Bend, the CBWF is hoping to have a mobile facility up and running throughout the region by March, according to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Bill Hoelscher. “Our philosophy is, ‘One person at a time,’” Hoelscher said. “We feel that if one person can get better, then we are successful.”

In order to raise funds for the many services available to the Coastal Bend, the CBWF hosts an Annual Red Ribbon Gala, which was started 12 years ago by Laurie Lee Yates, a generous volunteer. “The gala was created to help the foundation raise unrestricted funds for many of our services,” Hoelscher said.

According to the CBWF, 100 percent of the monies that are raised or donated during any fundraising events, such as the gala, are used to fund their programs and keep them running for years to come. “We have to raise these unrestricted funds to help us keep programs alive,” Hoelscher said. “Our food pantry is one of the services we provide to the community that stays open on a month-to-month basis, because we aren’t always certain that we will have the funds for the program.”

The 2016 Annual Red Ribbon Gala will be held at the Corpus Christi Country Club on Saturday, Feb. 27, from 7 to 11 p.m. In the spirit of putting the “fun” in fundraising, the CBWF has decided to update last year’s disco theme and celebrate with “Disco 2.0.”

For more information on receiving services, volunteering or donating, please visit the Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation, located at 5633 S. Staples, Ste. 700; contact their office at 361-814-2001; or visit their website at www.cbwellness.org.

Photos courtesy of Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation

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