Tim Kelly is Outreach Program Manager for The Project Quad Cities’ Viral for Your Survival program aimed at the region’s youth. Kelly is a character with a personality that matches his 6-foot 7-inch frame.
Tim Kelly (right) and NBC's The Voice contestant Nic Hawk at a fundraiser.
Kelly says VYS4 focuses on providing services to homeless youth ages 13 to 20.
"Child," he says over the phone, "Let me tell you about this little hustle and bustle we call the Quad Cities: the Quad Cities metropolitan area is also considered as part of the Great Lakes megalopolis and includes four counties: Scott County in Iowa and Henry, Mercer, and Rock Island counties in Illinois."
The Quad Cities are located along the Mississippi River in eastern Iowa and western Illinois, "approximately 165 miles west of Chicago and midway between Minneapolis to the north and St. Louis to the south," Kelly says. The Viral for Your Survival project is "limited to the portion composed of the Rock Island County in Illinois and Scott County in Iowa.”
Like many states still struggling after the recession, Illinois is facing budget shortfalls that have serious downstream impact on the The Project Quad Cities ability to continue their programming. Their prevention programming is currently surviving on funds raised by donors and other supporters. Still, Kelly says, "Each year TPQC tests between 350 and 600 individuals for HIV. We refuse to allow the system to fail on the backs of the most vulnerable."
"TPQC has maintained an open door policy which [we believe] is imperative to the community," Kelly says. "If someone walks through our doors and is in need of some kind of services, we will assure to get them to appropriate services."
Sometimes it feels like a losing battle. Kelly admits, "Child, hopelessness is a major problem." In the Quad Cities area of Illinois, he says, "we have seen a 30 percent increase of newly diagnosed [HIV-positive] individuals in the last year."
Asked whether these rates are due to some failure of his predecessors’ past efforts, Kelly responds diplomatically, “I feel at times that there was not enough messaging, since I was the only one hitting the streets due to funding. Then you got some folks not listening ‘cause they want it so they can sleep with who ever they want. They just don’t know any better. It’s hard being a one man dog and pony show teaching an entire region about safe sex, Planned Parenthood, PEP, PrEP, penises and any other Ps I missed.” His laugh hints at why Kelly is so sucessful in his job. He's the kind of person you just want to hang out with.
He doesn't stay jovial for long. "Safe secure housing and food are another major problem," Kelly continues. "Shelters are usually not an option for many we serve, due to trauma they experienced at a shelter previously. The people we serve are in need of a hand up not a hand out. Most of them don’t trust in the system. Many times if we don’t accompany people to an appointment, they easily feel rejected and stereotyped. Service navigation and advocacy is such an important piece of what we do."
While Kelly dreams of providing an emergency shelter, "because a lot of these kids don’t have a place to go and we don’t have youth housing or shelters,” donor support is also critical for the little — but essential — things; food, doctor visits, medication, transportation, and HIV testing. (Donate $25 and pay for a test, or see what $500 gets TPQC here.)
Other initiatives Kelly has launched in the Quad Cities include a new food pantry (donations are welcome) and a new program addressing domestic violence and bullying within the LGBTQI community. “We are the only organization within a 60 mile radius that has Ryan White part B care case management,” Kelly adds, “We are ramping up our efforts and innovation and eliminating some — in accordance to the CDC — group counseling and prevention based on what they are saying has and hasn't been effective."
The Project of Quad Cities follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations, even though Kelly says the agency hasn't been on the ground in the area and may not know his clients like he does. Kelly shrugs, "Ain’t that a bitch?"
The Viral for Your Survival program is currently running a fundraising campaign to "promote change, increase acceptance and tolerance of young LGBTQ people and communities in the Quad Cities Area." Help them reach their $2,000 goal here.