AIDS United remembers Henry van Ameringen

In more than a decade of giving, Henry van Ameringen supported some of AIDS United’s most challenging work and never wavered in his commitment to helping the most marginalized. Support from the H. van Ameringen Foundation has expanded the reach and scope of HIV and harm reduction services across the country, particularly in rural areas and Puerto Rico.

In June 2009, AIDS United received a $30,000 investment from H. van Ameringen Foundation in support of the Puerto Rico HIV/AIDS Prevention Grants Program. This initial investment began a long and productive joint relationship in support of people living with or most impacted by HIV in Puerto Rico.

Supporting people living with HIV in Puerto Rico

In the intervening years, H. van Ameringen Foundation funding has supported multiple strategies to address the needs of people living with HIV in Puerto Rico, including grantmaking, leadership development, scholarships for PLHIV in Puerto Rico to attend AIDSWatch, sponsorship for AIDS United’s Public Policy Council and the creation of curriculum for communities most impacted by HIV in Puerto Rico.

In 2010 and 2011, van Ameringen, along with four other foundations and corporate partners, supported grants to 19 community-based organizations providing HIV prevention and treatment services in Puerto Rico. The HIV Prevention Grants bolstered the capacity of community-based organizations and collaboratives to provide vital HIV/AIDS prevention services, such as risk reduction counseling and group programs, HIV testing and counseling, peer-based outreach and education, syringe exchange and community-level interventions to reduce stigma.

AIDS United continued to leverage support from van Ameringen to continue grantmaking efforts to community-based organizations providing HIV prevention and treatment services in Puerto Rico to ensure capacity and resources to help bolster infrastructure and care efforts from 2009-2016. These projects supported peer‐based, in-person education and counseling outreach; syringe services programs; and social media outreach, designed to reach the populations most highly impacted by the epidemic on the island, including people who inject drugs, women, people experiencing homelessness and housing instability, and youth, particularly young men who have sex with men. Funding from H. van Ameringen foundation has also provided support to 10-person delegations from Puerto Rico to attend AIDSWatch annually from 2016-2019.

Aiding Puerto Rico’s recovery after devastating storms

From August to September 2017, Puerto Rico was battered by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Van Ameringen was one of the first funders to contact AIDS United, calling AIDS United CEO Jesse Milan Jr. personally and asking, “How can I help?”

According to Milan, within minutes of their conversation, van Ameringen had donated the single largest individual contribution to the AIDS United Hurricane Relief Fund.

PRCONCRA, an organization in San Juan working to promote the health and improve quality of life for people living with HIV, said “Our deepest condolence in the passing of Mr. Henry van Ameringen to his family and the AIDS United family. In PRCONCRA we know how much he supported the LGBTQ community and his contribution in providing private funds to help organizations like ours.”

His generous initial contribution allowed AIDS United to leverage funds from several other organizations and foundations to pool into emergency response funding for Puerto Rico.

Sandra Miranda De León, M.P.H., the executive director of PRCONCRA, said, “In the aftermath of Hurricane María the generous contribution allowed our organization to recover in favor of our patients and to continue to provide on-going services in very difficult times. Rest in peace.”

The impact for a devastated community of these funds truly helped support community in the immediate months after the natural disasters.

In January 2019, support from H. van Ameringen Foundation led to the hiring of a program manager in Puerto Rico, Anselmo Fonseca. Fonseca had taken part in AIDSWatch as a state coordinator for several years and worked with AIDS United as a consultant. Fonseca guides and expands our work with advocates and communities on the island.

Ensuring PLHIV in Puerto Rico had a voice and representation in the national policy arena was a key priority for Mr. van Ameringen. Funds from H. van Ameringen Foundation supported the membership of Puerto Rico CONCRA (Community Network for Clinical Services, Research and Health Advancement) and Intercambios Puerto Rico on the AIDS United Public Policy Council.

In the upcoming year, AIDS United is looking to sponsor an organization in Puerto Rico that provides no-cost food and medical nutrition therapy to people living with HIV/AIDS for the next two cycles of the AIDS United Public Policy Council to ensure that voice is represented in national and local policy.

In the current climate of COVID-19, Puerto Rico has had some of the most stringent stay at home orders. Much of our work in Puerto Rico has required re-visioning. In January of 2020, Julio J. Fonseca (no relation to Anselmo) joined the Puerto Rico team.

“We have been very energized with the possibilities of reaching community and were excited to share upcoming fall activity with Mr. van Ameringen. Unfortunately, we were unable to meet in person and the news of his passing has made a tough year feel a bit tougher. But we know that if we continue to innovate and create new ways to support engagement of PLHIV as leaders in Puerto Rico, that will be embodying the legacy of his giving,” Julio J. Fonseca said.

Supporting and expanding syringe access

In 2017, van Ameringen made his first contribution to AIDS United’s Syringe Access Fund, which has the goal of reducing the health, psychosocial and socioeconomic disparities experienced by people who use drugs by supporting evidence-based and community-driven approaches to prevent the transmission of both HIV and viral hepatitis, reduce injection-related injuries, increase overdose prevention and reversal efforts, and connect people who use drugs to comprehensive prevention, treatment and support services.

Intercambios Puerto Rico, a harm reduction organization in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, shared, “Harm reduction knows Henry van Ameringen and Henry knew harm reduction. From direct services in the Bronx, NYC to syringe exchange in Fajardo, Puerto Rico.  He gave to many across the harm reduction community and he zeroed in on those who could do the most with the resources he provided. He truly supported our movement and was in for the long run. He and his engagement style — open and present — will be missed in a time when our movement needs more philanthropists of the presence of Henry.”

Van Ameringen’s commitment to increasing access to comprehensive and supportive health services for the most marginalized is evident in his unwavering support of expanding syringe access and harm reduction in the United States.

Stan Wong, Senior Program Manager at the Levi Strauss Foundation, commented, “When the Levi Strauss Foundation helped launch the Syringe Access Fund in 2004, it was a highly controversial HIV prevention strategy. We believe it was the right thing to do. So did Mr. van Ameringen. His support of the SAF and his contribution to the fight against HIV is immeasurable.”

Van Ameringen saw the value in what the Syringe Access Fund aims to accomplish. The United States is facing multiple epidemics, including HIV, viral hepatitis and overdose — which impact people who use drugs at increasingly higher rates. His support of the Syringe Access Fund has allowed grantees to address the complicated medical, social, cultural, environmental and economic factors that contribute to chronic and persistent substance use and heightened risk for infectious disease and overdose.

The approach to substance use in the United States has been shifting from a criminal to public health response. His support of AIDS United’s Syringe Access Fund since 2017 contributed to the legalization of syringe services in multiple states and jurisdictions, helped launch new programs in areas that had never before had access to comprehensive harm reduction services, helped prevent infectious disease with funds to support the purchase and distribution of sterile injection supplies, and connected thousands of people to substance use and HIV treatment services.

Strengthening harm reduction through funding, capacity building and advocacy

Funding from the H. van Ameringen Foundation has supported critical harm reduction services around the country with direct funding, capacity building and advocacy. Van Ameringen’s support has had a remarkable impact on the expansion of syringe access and comprehensive harm reduction services in the United States. Since 2017, grantees from the Syringe Access Fund have given out more than 131 million sterile syringes to people who use drugs, contributing to millions of cases of HIV prevention. New programs have opened in Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Oklahoma and North Dakota, and syringe access legalization bills have passed in Florida, Georgia and Idaho. This has led to improved services for people who use drugs and reductions in sharing and re-using syringes.

Through interactions with van Ameringen over the years, staff remember not just his generosity and willingness to help but his directness, his expectation of us to know more about these issues than him, and his genuine curiosity and desire to learn.

In a visit to Mr. van Ameringen’s home last year, senior program manager of the Syringe Access Fund, Zach Ford, was asked how he came to lead this portfolio. Zach responded with a few of his qualifications and about learning of harm reduction over the years.

Reflecting on this moment, Ford said, “I wish I could redo my response to Mr. van Ameringen. I came to AIDS United through a temp agency. I was struggling to hold down a steady job because of chaotic substance use. I learned about harm reduction from Monique Tula and Paola Barahona, two iconic women in the field. I began implementing harm reduction techniques in my own life, eventually moving into a period of abstinence. I became more passionate about the work as I continued to see the benefits it was having in my personal life, and a dedication to ensure equal access to harm reduction services grew within me. The support from Mr. van Ameringen did not only impact the participants at the direct service organizations supported by the Syringe Access Fund. It has had a profound impact on my own life and created in me a passion for this work. My path to this position is a bit unusual, but I cannot imagine doing anything else. That Mr. van Ameringen understood the importance of this work and entrusted AIDS United to do it, is remarkable and worth celebrating.”

AIDS United celebrates the life of Henry van Ameringen and his generosity support of the issues we work on every day. His spirit and dedication live on through the initiatives he supported. AIDS United is proud to have been a partner in this work and looks forward to continuing his legacy.