- Michael Barnes American-Statesman Staff
In a move that surprised some volunteers and stakeholders, Austin’s Care Communities announced that, because of financial challenges, it will stop providing free support for those living with HIV or cancer in Central Texas.
The midsize nonprofit, which operated with an annual budget of almost $600,000, according to GuideStar.org, sent out a message Monday afternoon saying it would close its doors Oct. 31 after 26 years of coordinating volunteers and caseworkers for the seriously ill.
“It has been our esteemed honor to serve those in our community who have faced serious illness alone or with little to no support and who have extremely limited resources,” Executive Director Mary Hearon said in the email. “We have had the great privilege of working with phenomenal volunteers and outstanding staff who have given of themselves to ease the pain and suffering of others.”
The group’s closest nonprofit partners have included AIDS Services of Austin, Breast Cancer Resource Center, Family Eldercare and Meals on Wheels Central Texas. Some Care Communities clients could migrate to these groups, Hearon said.
“The economic and financial challenges have made the organization unsustainable,” Hearon said Tuesday. “The volunteers are what made the work happen. Our care partners — that’s what we call our clients — had caseworkers, but it was our volunteers who would go in and clean, take care of errands, or just talk to them. One recently asked for a volunteer just to come over and play a board game with her. They have no one else.”
The group was founded in 1991 as part of the Central Texas AIDS Interfaith Network and then became its own nonprofit in the mid-1990s. When care was extended to cancer patients in the mid-200os, it took on the name Care Communities.
For years, Care Communities was also part of the American-Statesman’s Season for Caring campaign.
“Nonprofits have to constantly hustle to serve the missions and raise money at the same time,” said Monica Maldonado Williams, whose GivingCity reports cover Austin charities. “The power of Care Communities was all in its volunteers, but great volunteers alone can’t keep the organization running. The problem is, the needs served by Care Communities won’t go away just because the nonprofit closes its doors. It’s a loss for Austin, for sure.”
Singer-songwriter Sara Hickman wrote on Facebook: “The loss of Care Communities is greater than I can express. Having been on four care teams over more than 10 years, I can attest to the power of caring for and loving those on the fringes of society, those who have no other friends or family to stand close during one’s end of life transition.”
Roger Temme arrived at Care Communities 18 years ago, right after leaving the priesthood.
“I saw a little piece in the corner of the want ads in the Statesman,” said Temme, who has since recruited and trained thousands of volunteers for the group. “They were looking for someone who had a passion for working with people with HIV and who could speak before groups. I had a cousin and eight good friends who had died from AIDS complications. And after 25 years as a priest, I knew I could do the public speaking.”
His first day in the office, Temme spied a quotation on a piece of paper above his desk. It became his mission there, he said: “Every human being has a great yet often unknown gift to care, to be compassionate, to become present to the other, to listen, to hear and to receive. If that gift would be set free and made available, miracles could take place.”