Heather Vaughan
Chief Operating Officer

Heather Vaughan - Chief Operating Officer

Product Description

I was born and raised in a small town Austin, Indiana. I grew up with most of my extended family very close by and a majority in our city. My parents are very loving and supportive.

Growing up in a small town is a very rewarding experience. As a young person; I found it old fashioned, slow and intimidating. Yet as an adult I look back and realize that the beliefs, slow-paced lifestyle, and high standards set on us as the youth of the community is what shaped me into the person I am today. I am proud to tell others about where I am from and how life is in that small town.

Upon graduation from Austin High School I attended Indiana State University and obtained my bachelors in Psychology. While at ISU, I was a member of the tennis team and was active in intramural and recreational sports. I was also employed by a group home for adults with mental disabilities and by the state rehabilitation center in the summer.

In 2001, I moved to Jacksonville to complete my Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling from the University of North Florida. I was employed at River Region Human Services and that is where I entered the world of HIV/AIDS care. Most of my early experience in the HIV/AIDS community came through the form of a CDC grant. Through RRHS I worked in the Jacksonville Corrections system counseling individuals with HIV/AIDS. I also facilitated a men’s support group inside the jail.

Near the end of the CDC grant I got the opportunity to take a job with Lutheran Social Services as an HIV/AIDS mental health counselor in their AIDS Care and Educations program. I also facilitate a Men’s MSM support group at LSS with Daddy Dab.

Everyday I work with those that are infected with this disease and try to make their lives a little easier. My goal in life is to make at least one person smile each day. If I can make one person’s life a little brighter, then mine was worth living.

I now consider Jacksonville home. I met my soul mate here and have a wonderful son. Each day I see individuals who are infected or affected by this disease. The sad thing is that this disease is preventable and treatable. Not curable, but treatable. Many of my friends who are positive have been for 15-20 years and they are still here. I thank God each day for them and the life experiences they have shared with me. I also know of many individuals who have died from this disease.

Through this project I want to work on educating the world that HIV/AIDS is real and people are dying from it everyday. It affects millions of individual lives, those that are infected and those of us who are affected. I also want to thank all of those families that have supported their loves ones through this disease. Too many times in my line of work I have had individuals whose families are uneducated on the disease, or choose to be ignorant and push their loved ones away.

It is sad that as an HIV/ AIDS counselor in 2007 I am still the one who is holding the hand of many of my consumers as they die. If as an Aids Service Organizations we were not there, these individuals would die alone. I encourage families of individuals who are positive to be strong and stand by their loved ones, because it is hurtful to know that these consumers have families and the families just choose not be there for them.

By the grace of God, I, myself, have managed to avoid becoming infected with HIV. Therefore, I am not out of touch to tell my consumers “I know how you feel” or “I understand” because the truth is I really do not know how they are feeling. However, it is also not my place to judge anyone based on the illness or how they contracted the illness.

I simply want to do what I can with the time I have to hopefully brighten as many lives as possible. The rewards and satisfaction I receive from doing the work that I do are largely internal. Sure, I could find a higher paying job or one with less emotional stress. But I feel I was put here for a reason and that a large part of it is to help as many people as I can.

(Personal note from Daddy Dab - Heather is one of the most caring, loving, modest human beings that I have ever met. She gives 110 percent to not only her clients but to everyone in the HIV/AIDS community. We are honored to have her join us in the fight here at the project.)