Purchased as part of The Stranger's 2006 Strangercrombie holiday gift auction, the piece you're reading concerns not one but two worthy local organizations.
The first is Noise for the Needy (www.noisefortheneedy.org), the local nonprofit that annually produces a series of live music shows, the proceeds of which go to the charitable organization of the group's choosing. This year, the Noise for the Needy music fest will run June 5–10 at a variety of local venues, with proceeds going to the group's 2007 beneficiary, Rise n' Shine. To celebrate the alliance, NFTN founder Rich Green purchased this made-to-order vignette, instructing me to use the space to spread the gospel of the good deeds being done every day by Rise n' Shine. His wish is my command.
Rise n' Shine's reason for being can't be stated any better than it is in the group's official mission statement: "Since 1988, Rise n' Shine has been providing emotional support programs, stability, advocacy, and AIDS education for children and teens affected by HIV and AIDS. This includes children and teens who have been orphaned by the disease, children and teens who live with a parent or other close family member with HIV or AIDS, and those who are infected themselves."
When the organization began its work in the late '80s, services were split much more evenly between kids who were infected (typically the offspring of IV drug users) and kids who were affected (typically children left orphaned by AIDS). But as the medical advances of the 1990s all but eradicated "AIDS babies" in the U.S., Rise n' Shine found itself focusing more and more on children "living in the shadow of AIDS"—kids whose parents were suffering and dying, or already dead, from a disease that not only comes packed with all sorts of sexual, social, and moral judgments a kid can't possibly understand, but also brings a slow, merciless decline and death that must be agonizing for a child to behold.
Which is where Rise n' Shine comes in. With a small staff and a corps of dedicated volunteers, the organization aims to fill the holes that having a parent with AIDS can leave in a childhood. "More than anything, these kids just need a home," says Rise n' Shine's founding director, Janet L. Trinkaus. "We try to create a place where these kids can get consistent attention from reliable, healthy adults, who can pay attention to them in ways their parents, unfortunately, no longer can."
Tellingly, the majority of Rise n' Shine's kids are first brought to the group by an ailing parent—typically single moms, who form an alarming percentage of the state's new HIV cases—who likely take great comfort in knowing their kid is getting help working through an extraordinarily tough experience.
Life regularly sends mind-fucks to the people least equipped to handle them, but even the most superficial components of "living in the shadow of AIDS" are uniquely agonizing. Remember how embarrassed you were by your mom's very existence when you were 13? Imagine how you'd feel if she were dying of a disease she contracted through sex or drug use, and you'll get an idea of the complex knot of anxiety, anger, shame, and vast sadness Rise n' Shine aims to unravel in each one of its cases.
When I ask Trinkaus for the story of Rise n' Shine's founding, she smiles, pauses, takes a deep breath, and begins what is clearly a well-told tale, and rightly so.
In the late mid-'80s, Trinkaus found herself "at a change point in life," and embarked on a 10-day solo retreat in the North Cascades to figure out what to do next. "I was all alone, out there in the deep snow, asking myself what I wanted to do with my life," Trinkaus tells me. When an answer failed to materialize, she returned to her Snohomish home, and soon came upon the answer she'd been looking for. "As soon as I thought of children affected by AIDS, I started writing out the plan that eventually became Rise n' Shine."
As she wrote down the components of her would-be program, Trinkaus realized she was replicating the best components of her own childhood. "I went to summer camp, and I wanted these kids to get the chance to do that, too. At Christmas, my family exchanged gifts around the fire, so we do that here with the Rise n' Shine family." But, most importantly for Trinkaus: "I had a lot of aunts and uncles, a wide net of support growing up, and I really wanted to create that for the Rise n' Shine kids."
At Rise n' Shine, these avuncular and materteral roles are filled by the group's small army of volunteers, each of whom spends four hours a week with his or her Rise n' Shine charge. More than anything, the mentoring program helps Rise n' Shine live up to its ideals, as kids who might otherwise be lost in a world of sickness, secrecy, and shame are given regular attention from adults whose only job—for these four hours a week, at least—is to be there, pay attention, and help.
The Rise n' Shine calendar is filled with inspired diversions—the weeklong Rise n' Shine summer camp draws over 100 kids each year, and the fireside holiday gathering remains open to all Rise n' Shine kids in perpetuity. But it's the basic day-to-day support provided by the mentors that makes the biggest difference in the kids' lives. "A lot of these kids literally have no one," says Trinkaus. "If your parent is gone, who do you call when you get your first speeding ticket? Who's there to help guide you through the variety of challenges of growing up? We're here to help kids every way we can, and just providing a regular, stable, supportive adult presence in their lives can make all the difference."
As any volunteer will tell you, the joy of volunteering is made up in large part of the sheer narcotic pleasure of doing something good for someone else. (Want to make that bong hit feel extra nice? Try preceding it with three hours of public service!) But for Rise n' Shine volunteers, the experience clearly goes much deeper.
"I didn't have a father affiliated with AIDS," said Kristine Armstrong, a volunteer mentor for Rise n' Shine for the past four years. "But I had a sick father growing up, and no one to talk to. As a child, you have all these feelings and you don't know what to do with them, and sometimes your family is too busy taking care of the sick family member, and you just need an outside person to go to. I figured that was a way I could help kids in a similar situation."
As for experience as a Rise n' Shine volunteer, Armstrong is shyly effusive. "Let me just say that... you know, the children touch your lives. They're just such special people, and until you start getting involved you don't realize how much you start to love and care for the person that you're matched up with... I don't know. It's just an amazing experience."
To become a Rise n' Shine volunteer, see www.risenshine.org. The next training session will be Saturday and Sunday, March 3 and 4.