In 1986 a group of individuals came together to form the Ohio AIDS Coalition and a year later began hosting ‘Healing Weekends’ for people living with HIV/AIDS. The following year, in 1988, OAC and 20 participants walked out of Schiller Park and through the German Village commemorating and initiating the first Columbus AIDS Walk.
In 1989, OAC officially became incorporated as a non-profit organization expanding and increasing its capacity to producing four healing weekends a year, due to the demand of the community. As OAC gained momentum, participation in the 1993 AIDS Walk in Columbus increased to 160 participants and raised $16,000 dollars. In the following year (1994) OAC and the Columbus AIDS Taskforce joined together to create AIDSWalk ’95, Columbus Walks for Life! During the same year, OAC’s Board of Directors voted to hire an Executive Director.
In 1995, the Ohio AIDS Coalition opened its Central Ohio statewide office in Columbus, which was run a year later by the first hired Executive Director. OAC organized the first Leadership and Advocacy conference at The Adams Mark Hotel in Columbus in 1997. The three-day training and development seminar for both consumers and professionals was the first of its kind in the state.
In 1998, OAC provided the platform for HIV positive individuals to travel to Washington D.C. for AIDS Watch – the national HIV/AIDS lobby day created and produced by the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA). During this same year, OAC was appointed to the board of AIDS Action Council (the national AIDS advocacy organization). As the advocacy arm of OAC developed and became recognized, OAC held the first AIDS Watch Ohio, modeled after NAPWA’s national program, in Columbus in 1999. In that same year the OAC Wellness Times, a statewide newsletter written by consumers for consumers was reaching over 3,100 individuals across the state of Ohio.
OAC operated with one paid staff member, the Executive Director, from 1989 until 2000 at which time the staff expanded to a team of two with the addition of the OAC Program Specialist. J. Kevin Sullivan was hired as the the new OAC Executive Director in 2001. OAC hired their first Director of Programs, Tyler Andrew TerMeer, in 2004 to help shape OAC’s program and policy initiatives.
The first OAC Leadership Summit for HIV Positive Young Adults was held in 2006 and a year later OAC expanded to a staff of 4 full-time employees, at which time OAC opened its Cleveland office.
With the state in budget crisis, OAC began to make some difficult decisions about program and leadership activities. The last statewide Leadership Conference was produced in November, 2009 and the OAC Healing Weekend program was cut from 4 annual retreats down to two. The following two years OAC produced a Women’s Healing weekend providing leadership and empowerment opportunities for HIV positive women across Ohio. The completion of the 2011 women’s weekend marked the end of the OAC Healing Weekend program. Future opportunities for education, leadership and networking are currently underway.
2011 brought a changing landscape for the organization, as OAC began to shift its focus from client outreach toward community education, engagement, and leadership. The board of directors continued critical discussions about the sustainability of OAC and voted to begin conversations with AIDS Resource Center Ohio as a safeguard for the continued advocacy and education that OAC provides for Ohio’s consumers. In August, 2011 AIDS Resource Center Ohio’s (ARC Ohio) board of directors voted unanimously to carry out a full merger with the Ohio AIDS Coalition (OAC), with ARC Ohio serving as the continuing legal entity. Sadly, Kevin Sullivan, longtime HIV/AIDS activist, advocate and Executive Director of the Ohio AIDS Coalition, died September 5, 2011 seventeen days prior to the official merger on September 22, 2011. The merger of OAC and ARC Ohio brings a stronger voice to the clients and constituents served here in Ohio. As a combined organization, advocacy and fundraising will be enhanced, thus permitting continuance of the OAC vision of Hope, Healing, and Empowerment.
ARC Ohio hired Tyler Andrew TerMeer to return as the Director of OAC in November 2011. To catch up with OAC’s life after the merger with ARC Ohio, you can read about our first year after the merge here!
On April 11, 2016, AIDS Resource Center Ohio (ARC Ohio) announced its expanded mission and name change to Equitas Health. Ohio AIDS Coalition is now a division of Equitas Health.
OAC has grown tremendously over the years; the impact that OAC has had on lives has reached thousands throughout Ohio communities. As OAC evolves advocacy, empowerment, leadership and networking people to care will continue to remain the forefront as we make strides to serve the needs of people living with and affected by HIV in Ohio.