By Laura Latzko, December 2017 Issue
“Shanti is a Sanskrit word meaning inner peace, and is reflective of the approach The Phoenix Shanti Group has taken to promoting personal empowerment and maintaining independence and dignity within the community it serves for the past three decades.
Established in 1987, the nonprofit organization provides housing, counseling, substance abuse, behavior health and vocational training services to those infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS.
According to James Claymon, Phoenix Shanti Group behavioral health coordinator, it’s the organization’s commitment to providing quality care for patients that has kept it going for 30 years.
“I think the reason that we’ve been sustainable and have been around for 30 years is because of the core philosophy we have of just treating people how we want to be treated and having kindness and compassion, respecting diversity, understanding differences, meeting people where they are at,” he said.
As part of the organization’s yearlong celebration of its 30th anniversary, it’s hosting a gala Dec. 9 at the Encanto Park Clubhouse. The event will feature entertainment, guest appearances, a live art auction and complimentary hors d’oeuvres.
As part of the gala, the Phoenix Shanti Group will give out awards for outstanding community partners, community support and individual support.
Leading up to the gala, the organization hosted monthly fundraisers and social events, such as a bowling night and comedy shows, to commemorate this milestone. These events also offer past clients and their families the opportunity to reunite with each other as well as the organization’s staff and volunteers.
“To see clients come back and celebrate with us and share how their recovery is still going, how they’re doing, how their family is doing – that’s very rewarding for me personally, and for us as an agency, to be able to see that we’re impacting people’s lives,” Claymon said.
While working with patients, the staff at Phoenix Shanti Group gets to know them on a personal basis.
“It is our goal when somebody comes to us that we get them in enough wrap-around support services to help them to get their life on track and maintain that,” Claymon said.
At any time, the Phoenix Shanti Group works with around 50 patients, who generally receive services for a year and a half to two years.
The biggest challenge, Claymon said, is not having enough space and resources to serve everyone in need. The organization currently has a waiting list of more than 25 people.
“It’s really heartbreaking when you know that people are suffering and people are living on the streets or living in conditions that are absolutely horrifying, and they have their illness on top of that to manage,” he said, adding that the majority of the individuals served by the organization are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless and a number of them suffer from substance abuse or mental health issues.
According to AIDS activist Randy Gorbette, the organization started off with support groups that took place in his home. As the organization grew, it expanded to include hospice care, a CNA program and substance abuse services.
While the hospice and CNA program are no longer offered, the organization has expanded over the years to incorporate housing and vocational rehab programs to meet the changing needs of people with HIV.
When the organization was established, it primarily served white gay men, but according to Claymon, the populations it works with today are much more diverse.
“The face of what a person looks like that has HIV has completely changed from what it was back in the mid- to late-’80s,” Claymon said.
State Medicaid, federal grants, private donations, fundraisers and grants from local and national organizations help to fund the Phoenix Shanti Group. But because of the wider demographic impacted by HIV/AIDS today, Claymon said the organization’s staff and volunteers are working to build new partnerships with individuals, businesses and organizations within the community.
And, through the Shanti’s Second Chances thrift store, the organization both raises money and provides vocational training.
The vocational trainees have helped to shape the layout and offerings within the store, which sells items such as clothing, furniture, kitchen items, exercise equipment and artwork.
The store is located at 4015 N. 16th St and can be reached at 602-283-0100.
According to Matt Lopez, Shanti’s Second Chances general manager, the is a unique environment for patients learn valuable work and life skills, including how to do inventory and conduct themselves in a professional environment.
While working in the thrift shop, Lopez said patients can make – and learn from –mistakes as they grow personally and professionally.
“In six months, a year down the road, they are a totally different person. They are professional. They’ve grown, and they’re ready to take that next step to become employed,” Lopez said, adding that past participants have gone on to work in a wide variety of industries start, including their own businesses.
Along with the vocational training component, the store provides patients free clothing and store credit in exchange for volunteering.
“It gives them something to do. They feel like they have a purpose…and they get to earn the clothes that are on their back,” Lopez said.
Through its thrift store, the Phoenix Shanti Group partners with different furniture and consignment stores throughout the Valley.
In the meantime, The Phoenix Shanti Group is always in need of volunteers to assist with events, social media management, Shanti’s 2nd Chances thrift store, the organization’s food and hygiene product pantries and corporate sponsorships and donations.
Other ways the community can support The Phoenix Shanti Group include donating used furniture, clothes and housewares to Shanti’s 2nd Chances thrift store, 4015 N. 16th St., Suite E-F. online shoppers are invited to select The Phoenix Shanti Group on AmazonSmile (smile.amazon.com), which will result in a 0.5 percent donation by the retailer to the organization for every dollar spent.
For more information on The Phoenix Shanti Group, visit shantiaz.org.
30th Anniversary Gala
2-6 p.m. Dec. 9
Encanto Park Club
2605 N. 15th Ave., Phoenix