Patricia Clark was 31 years old and living in a small town in Michigan when her boyfriend called from prison and told her that she needed to be tested for HIV. It was 1991, and Clark didn’t know a single person with HIV. When she tested positive, Clark was certain she was going to die, especially because she didn’t even have health insurance. But unlike many who are paralyzed by fear at the discovery, Clark immediately applied for services, going straight from the testing center to apply for Medicaid the same day. From the beginning, Clark had turned to her local HIV and AIDS service organization, CARES, for support — and when her boyfriend was released from prison she got him hooked up with the organization too.
Then Clark inherited a 6-year-old girl from family members who were unable to care for her — and everything changed. “Within two weeks,” Clark told The Body, “I could see that either I was going to invest in having this child and raising her — and if I did that, I wouldn’t stay with this man [who’d been in jail] because the chaos for her would not be healthy. If it had just been me, I would have probably still been there, but because it was her, I was able to disengage from him.”
She immediately began volunteering at CARES and soon afterward started working there part-time. That’s when Kelly Doyle, director of client services at CARES, met her. “Pat started working for CARES 10 years ago as an administrative assistant,” Doyle tells Plus. “Then [she] moved on to being a prevention specialist and then a case manager.”
Doyle is amazed at her colleague’s ability to be so open about her HIV. “In the time that I have known her, [Pat] has been an outspoken advocate for HIV and openly discussed her own journey with HIV in our small community,” Doyle says. “She has grown up in a small town and with her family all around her, she has been brave to come out to them about living with HIV.”
At CARES, Clark “has fought for her clients and gone above and beyond to make sure the message of HIV was out in the community,” says Doyle, talking about Clark’s willingness to do presentations, be on television, and even share her story in a United Way ad. “Pat has facilitated every program at CARES and has consistently advocated for clients to be a part of conferences in Michigan, even driving them herself across the state.”
Now the team leader for CARES’ case management team in Kalamazoo, Clark is also the cochair of the Positive Women’s Network Michigan chapter and involved with a coalition in Michigan working on HIV criminalization laws. “Pat is an inspiration to everyone here at CARES and in our community due to her strong voice, her advocacy for those living with HIV, and her resourceful nature,” Doyle raves. “She is one of those people, if you want something done, you go to her and she will figure it out.”