Gary Crothers was the Director of ACET Ireland from 1992 to 2006. He is currently the Director of ACET Northern Ireland.
When I was appointed as Director of ACET Northern Ireland in 1990, I made it a condition of my appointment to have the freedom to also establish a branch of ACET in Dublin. At the time, working cross border was regarded as a difficult thing to do and yet to me this seemed the right thing to do. How could I set up a Christian response to HIV in Northern Ireland and ignore the fact that most people living with HIV were in Dublin?
I had just moved back to live in Ireland having worked with people affected by HIV in New York. In my heart I believed that this could be done in Ireland, both parts of Ireland, at the same time.
I began to establish ACET in Northern Ireland and within a couple of weeks I was in Dublin attending a HIV conference to begin networking, and met Brain Murtagh who was working for the National Youth Federation of Ireland. Brian was later to serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for ACET in Dublin and proved to be a great encouragement and has become a lifelong friend. Some months later I was put in contact with Terrie Colman-Black. Terrie had been wanting to provide support for families affected by HIV and addiction issues. We became firm friends from the first meeting and set plans in motion to begin a new home care initiative for people living with HIV in inner city Dublin. Terrie’s husband Ian Black also understood the need for this service and has been a constant support all down the years.
We launched ACET Dublin at the Ormond Hotel, to people from across the Christian community who shared our concern for families affected by HIV. We shared our vision of providing practical care and emotional support for people in their own homes and offered to train a team of volunteers to provide this service. Many people offered to work with us, as carers and advisors.
We also talked about the HIV Education work in Northern Ireland: how we wanted to establish a similar service in Dublin. At the close of the meeting someone stepped out of the crowd: Vivienne Morrow- Murtagh, who had recently moved to Dublin to marry Brian Murtagh. Vivienne volunteered to work with the new ACET initiative to set up a HIV education service in Dublin. Vivienne and I also became firm friends from this first meeting and together we set plans in motion to begin a new HIV education initiative in Dublin. Terrie, Vivienne and I shared a strong sense of calling to do this work. Right from the start we shared a deep sense of trust and common purpose which was to form the bedrock of ACET in Dublin. Many, many others joined us, to volunteer, to work on staff, to serve as trustees, to support us financially, and to pray for us and our clients.These two remarkable women put their heart into the development of these new initiatives in Dublin, and in time, together we were to establish a home care service for adults living with HIV, a youth project for teenagers affected by HIV, the first project in Ireland for children affected by HIV and a HIV education and training service.
Over the years, hundreds of individuals, families and children affected by HIV have accessed care from ACET in Dublin, and tens of thousands have accessed HIV education from ACET in Dublin. ACET Ireland is the only ACET internationally that has continually offered both care and education services. Although I know I had a strong calling to establish and build an ACET initiative in Dublin, I know that it would never have been possible without Terrie and Vivienne. I value their courage, and commitment, their creativity, their gentleness, compassion and care for vulnerable people, and also their warmth, laughter and generosity of heart. We started with nothing, and yet no challenge was ever big enough to stop us; always together we found a way to make a difference for people who were living and dying with HIV, and so many others responded and joined us.