Nation’s Largest HIV Wellness Center, Based in Philly, SeeksHelp from Hollywood to Stay Open

Let’s talk togetherness and how there is Power in Numbers. And, now, more than ever, we need that power and those numbers.

At risk of running out of money and closing its doors, the Siloam Wellness Center in Philadelphia, a model for HIV/AIDS support groups worldwide, is turning to prominent celebrity activists in the fight against HIV to raise $500,000 needed to keep the center open.

Actor Tom Hanks won his first Oscar in 1993 for “Philadelphia,” one of the first mainstream films to tackle HIV and AIDS. Today, the namesake of Hanks groundbreaking film is seeking help from Hanks and dozens of other Hollywood celebrities to keep the nation’s largest HIV wellness open so it continues serving Philadelphia’s growing populations of residents struggling with HIV/AIDS.

“Since the movie Philadelphia was released, public perception of AIDS has improved and we’ve seen tremendous advances in science and longer lifespans for Americans living with AIDS,” said Sarina DiBianca, Siloam Executive Director of the Siloam Wellness Center.  “But in the last few years, we’ve seen AIDS fade from the headlines of and corresponding level of donations and support for programs like ours has slow down to a crawl. Now the situation is desperate.”

For23 years, the Siloam Wellness Center has provided life-saving services to Philadelphia residents and their families suffering from or struggling with HIV/AIDS. While the center has become a model for HIV Wellness Centers worldwide by providing integrated patient care services that complement the standard physician-supervised medical treatment regimen, local grassroots fundraising efforts for the center have not kept pace with the growing demand for the Siloam services.  This week, following a disappointing crowd funding campaign on GoFundme which raised less than $8,000, supporters announced their plans to reach out to celebrity icons who’ve lent their talents to raise awareness and funds in help those who suffer from the virus, including Tom Hanks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Bono, Elton John, Madonna and many more stars who recognize that centers like Siloam need their huge fan base to continue providing invaluable services.

The name of the fundraising campaign is “Siloam 20/20“.  It’s goal – inspire the passions of celebrity HIV activists in Hollywood about the Siloam story and convince them to share our story with their wealthiest fans on social media – particularly those living in Philly and greater Pennsylvania – to save the center by making a donation. The center hopes to recruit high-profile celebrities to tell the Siloam story to their wealthiest fans who may, in turn, make individual donations of $20,000.  Donations of smaller amounts will, of course, be accepted but Siloam managers hope their story makes an emotional connection with 20 wealthy, caring, and possibly local donors who can afford to give $20,000 each.  If these “Philly philanthropists” emerge in the 20/20 fundraising campaign, the center will have enough funding to remain open and continuing providing its healthcare services to Philadelphia AIDS/HIV victims for the next four years.

“There will be a terrible vacuum left in Philadelphia if our doors close,” exclaimed 71-year-old KathrineLaadt, a volunteer at the center who lost her 26-year-old son, Richard to AIDS years ago. “A Philadelphia resident infected with HIV can go to a doctor and be put on medicine, but if they’re emotionally and spiritually broken, they will not get healthy without the services Siloam provides.”

While there are dozens of physicians and treatment centers in the greater Philadelphia area—and hundreds statewide—that provide medications to people with HIV/AIDS, there are no centers like Siloam that provide a holistic approach to healing.  According to a recent consumer survey conducted by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, over 63% of HIV-positive residents report at least one mental health issue, with depression occurring at a prevalence of 51.5% and anxiety at 43.3%. Additionally, over 60% of HIV-positive individuals face unemployment—compared to 6% for the entire city. Furthermore, 19.4% of respondents reported incarceration after their HIV diagnosis and 10.4% reported a substance abuse disorder.The center’s comprehensive wellness program, provided at no cost to those infected with HIV/AIDS, includes:

  • Individual Counseling
  • Support Groups
  • Food Pantry
  • Bodywork Classes
  • Community-Building Retreats
  • Educational Seminars
  • Behavioral Health Programs
  • Social Activities 

DiBianca is especially concerned because of recent reports that the number of HIV infections in Philadelphia has increased in recent months because of the opioid epidemic.  “The opioid epidemic brings another worry for public health professionals in Philly. The number of new HIV diagnoses had been declining locally but now we’re seeing an increase among those who inject drugs.”  Putting an even greater hardship on the center is Pennsylvania State Health officials who told DiBianca that because Siloam is holistic and not clinical in its services (a clinical service would be legally-allowed to prescribe HIV medications), the center cannot receive any financial assistance from the Pennsylvania Health Department to stay open.  In the meantime, hundreds of HIV clinical services and non-profits throughout Pennsylvania continue to receive millions of dollars in financial aid from the state health department.

Center organizers hopes the campaign remindsthe public that HIV/AIDS remains a global epidemic. “We want our 20/20 campaign to also give the world a reality check—a 20/20 vision—that this disease is not going away and we must all join the fight,” said DiBianca.

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