Volunteerism works 

By Karen Herland

Charles Altman Magnifying glass

Charles Altman

This Sunday, when the Farha Foundation undertakes its 17th edition of Ça Marche, a fundraising walk for local groups providing HIV support and prevention services, Charles Altman will be lacing his sneakers for the 17th time and leading a group of like-minded Concordians along the 7 km route.

Altman has been a active in the community for the past three decades. It was volunteer work for Concordia’s Access Centre for Students with Disabilities that eventually had him hired as a technology assistant in Advocacy and Support Services.

He has been volunteering with AIDS Community Care Montreal (ACCM) since 1991 when he saw an ad they placed through the Montreal Volunteer Bureau.

Altman had learned about AIDS in his hometown of Toronto in the 80s. An unusual series of deaths among gay male acquaintances set off alarm bells, “at first it was brain cancer, pancreatic cancer, pneumonia… after a few months it was clear there was a common element.”

His concern was heightened by the fact that a lack of clear information, and stigma associated with the virus, meant that few people were aware of the risks, let alone prepared to address them.

“If people can’t talk about it we can’t prevent it, or take control of it.”

In Montreal, ACCM was actively supporting a dialogue, involved people living with HIV in prevention and support projects. Altman appreciated that approach, and the transparency of their operations.

Altman began volunteering as a buddy – providing companionship, support and running errands for HIV+ people who were isolated or managing with reduced mobility. He filled that role for about four-and-a-half years. He remembers that period as a difficult one, with intense relationships built and lost over a couple of months. In one year, he attended 20 memorial services.

In the mid-90s, the development of combination therapies and other treatment options radically changed the face of AIDS and the role of volunteering.

“It was no longer palliative care or short-term,” recalls Altman, “we weren’t dealing with end of life issues but with ‘re-engineering’.” People who had left professional careers, sold off businesses or property and depleted savings suddenly felt strong and well again. “We needed to help people plan for a longer life.”

Altman’s volunteerism took him through the ranks of ACCM, including terms as President and Vice-President of the Board of Directors. He continues to support the training and development of new volunteers.

He credits Concordia’s course on HIV/AIDS, the flagship of the sexuality studies program, with supplying, “amazing talent and ideas” through the dozen or so students they send every year to fulfill the internship requirement of the course. Altman says many of those students have gone on to paid positions, and have contributed much to the organization’s vitality.

If you want to join the Concordia Walkers Team, please contact Altman at ext. 3503 or sponsor him online.


Concordia University