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Pioneering AIDS activist’s legacy lives on

Michaelle House in Vista, CA celebrates the 20th Anniversary of opening its doors.

SAN DIEGO, CA, August 24, 2017 - The year 2017 marks a significant milestone in the service to men and women affected by HIV/AIDS in San Diego County, as Michaelle House in Vista, CA celebrates the 20th Anniversary of opening its doors.

Opened in April 1997, Michaelle House (operated by Fraternity House, Inc.) is named in honor of Michaelle Liddell, one of the first women in San Diego County to speak publicly about her HIV status.

At a time when most people thought of AIDS as a “gay” disease, a straight, Caucasian, married mother of two was able to shatter stereotypes in a way that others could not. Michaelle was an outspoken advocate for care and services, meeting any stigma head-on, and making sure people understood that HIV does not discriminate.

Finding the perfect home, which needed to be single-story and large enough to house 12 residents, and a neighborhood that would welcome its residents at a time when HIV/AIDS carried an enormous stigma, was a significant task.

The organization’s then Executive Director Gale McNeeley (who remains involved as a Board Member) and Board President Caroline Theiss-Aird were assisted by Realtor John Wilkinson in the search. “I am most proud of the fact that our Board shared a common vision of housing for men and women living with AIDS, and were willing to do all the hard work necessary to make this dream a reality,” says McNeeley.

Significant funding was also required, the bulk of which came from the Federal HOPWA program (Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS).  The Rath Foundation, The Skye Fleming Trust, collections by Catholic Navy Chaplain Father Ken Kieffer, and countless individual donations contributed to the successful campaign.  Modifications, furnishings, and landscaping came with the support of hundreds of volunteers and in-kind donations.

This milestone anniversary will be celebrated with a special “Ohana” Luau at Michaelle House in Vista on Sunday September 10, 2017 from 3:00 – 6:00 p.m., featuring hula dancers and live entertainment. The “Ohana” theme was chosen for its significance in underscoring family in an extended sense of the term, including blood-related, adoptive or intentional.

The concept emphasizes that families are bound together and members must cooperate and care for one another. “In a very real way, the donors, volunteers, staff and residents at Fraternity House, Inc. represent exactly what ohana means,” says Executive Director Matt Harding. “With many staff and board members involved for decades, and a mission to provide a caring home for those who need it, as long as they need it, Fraternity House seeks to ensure the most vulnerable in our community are cared for, connected to their community, and remembered.”

Current Board President Patrick Anderson is also celebrating his 20th anniversary with the organization. His initial involvement was closely tied to the opening of Michaelle House: “I was in charge of a huge volunteer group that came out to install all the landscaping around the house, a few months after the first residents moved in.  When I experienced first-hand the loving spirit and dedication of the board, volunteers and staff, I knew this was where I needed to devote my energy – and I haven’t regretted that decision for a minute.”

Additional information about Michaelle House, and the 20th Anniversary celebration, can be requested by contacting Executive Director Matt Harding at 760-736-2092 x 101, or e-mail matt@fraternityhouse-inc.org.

For nearly 30 years, Fraternity House, Inc. has provided sliding scale housing and care to homeless and very low-income individuals living with HIV/AIDS.  FHI’s first home, Fraternity House in Escondido, CA, and Michaelle House (pronounced Michelle) in Vista, CA remain San Diego County’s only licensed Residential Care Facilities for the Chronically-Ill (RCF-CI).  Both homes offer housing, 24-hour care, nutritious home-cooked meals, laundry, transportation, organized recreation and supportive services.The mission of Fraternity House, Inc. is to provide warm and caring homes where men and women disabled by HIV/AIDS can receive comprehensive care and services in order to rebuild their health and return to independent living, or where they can spend their last days in comfort and dignity.