by Matt Paco | photo courtesy Nashville CARES
This year marks the end of an era for Nashville CARES, Middle Tennessee’s most iconic nonprofit serving people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA). CEO Joseph Interrante is retiring after 25 years as the head of the organization and passing the baton to Amna Osman, who was chosen this past March as the new Chief Executive Officer.
“It is a pleasure and honor to join Nashville CARES,” said Osman. “I look forward to working with dedicated and committed colleagues to advance CARES’ mission and continue serving people living with HIV/AIDS.”
“It’s all about nurturing a new generation of leaders to continue the work,” Interrante says. “Amna brings the perfect combination of skills and experience to lead CARES into the future.”
While leading Nashville CARES for over two decades, Joseph Interrante amassed a litany of accolades and accomplishments. The Middle Tennessee Association of Nonprofit Executives named him CEO of the Year in 2005. The Human Rights Campaign honored Interrante with their Equality Award in 2014, and the Nashville Scene recognized him as one of 25 Nashvillians who have shaped the city for the better since 1989.
Since arriving in 1994, this Harvard-educated pioneer grew CARES ten-fold. From a dozen employees, the organization has grown to over 120 staff members today, who currently serve 50,000 clients in Middle Tennessee.
Mirroring the on-going advances in medical treatment, Interrante worked to broaden the charity’s mission from serving people who were dying of AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s to helping clients infected with HIV live longer and more productive lives.
Last year alone, Nashville CARES provided over 99,000 meals to 1,543 people living with HIV/AIDS. They educated 8,700 teens and young adults about HIV prevention, tested 10,100 people for HIV, and helped 2,200 people find and keep their housing.
A main source of the nonprofit’s success comes from Interrante’s determination to hire staff members living with HIV/AIDS. With around 30 percent of Nashville CARES’ employees being HIV positive (including Interrante himself), their lived experiences with the disease have brought invaluable insight on the types of benefits and services that best serve Nashville CARES’ clients.
“I’m tremendously proud of the way that Nashville CARES has reinvented itself in response to the advances we have made in our knowledge about and strategies to combat HIV and AIDS, most recently by refocusing its mission on ending the epidemic in Middle Tennessee,” Interrante adds.
Another way Interrante has helped CARES evolve has been to create innovative programs that expand the charity’s outreach throughout Middle Tennessee’s LGBT+ community. One example Interrante is proud of was the creation of My House in 2015. Nashville CARES established My House, in conjunction with Street Works and Neighborhood Health, to be a health and wellness community center for African American and other gay and bisexual men, who are disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and are often the most underserved.
The creation of My House took nearly a decade and grew out of the Brothers United program, which began at CARES in 1987. My House Director Dwayne Jenkins remembers how instrumental Interrante was from the very beginning. “Joe brought together a group of eight Black Gay/Same Gender Loving men in 1996 to discuss the rising infection rates of Black Gay/SGL Men. He sat, took notes, and worked with the founding members of Brothers United and wrote the grant for Brothers United that eventually turned into My House.”
My House offers medical care and support services, event programming, prevention education, HIV and STI testing, along with case management for individuals living with HIV/AIDS. According to Interrante, My House is the largest dispenser in Tennessee of PrEP medication, which can reduce the risk of getting infected with HIV by 70-90%.
Through the Tennessee AIDS Advocacy Network, another program Interrante founded in 2007, he wants CARES to continue educating the newest crop of legislators from last year’s election with the most up-to-date information about HIV/AIDS research and prevention. He feels educating politicians in power is key to advocating for laws that benefit the community and promote comprehensive and compassionate responses to the epidemic.
Despite all the achievements that CARES has accomplished, Interrante believes there is still much more work to be done. He feels that the organization – and the LGBT+ community in general – should focus more attention and services towards seniors living with HIV/AIDS. Of the 2,607 PLWHA in Metro Nashville served by Nashville CARES last year, 1,140 are seniors age 50 or older.
“Older adults living with HIV face a unique set of challenges to living with HIV that are different from younger PLWHA and different from other senior adults. Trust me, I know this personally,” Interrante adds. “The challenges are medical, economic, psychological, and social. For example, more than twice as many HIV+ seniors live alone compared to Nashville’s general senior population. So, organizations like CARES are beginning to work with older clients to identify the right responses to these needs.”
So, what’s next for Interrante after he retires? He says he has been contemplating a return to his work in cultural history.
“People are often surprised to learn that I was a teacher and historian before I started doing AIDS work full-time,” he says. “I have an unfinished book on the automobile and American mass culture. I also did LGBT+ history, something John Bridges and I have discussed. We’ll see what happens with any of that.”
Although Interrante is unsure what direction his life will go next, one thing he is certain about is that he is leaving Nashville CARES in capable hands. “I’m confident that our work toward [ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic] will continue through the dedication of board and staff, many of whom are also living with HIV and/ or from communities most heavily impacted.”