by Jessica Carreras
In a small gathering of friends and community members at Dino’s restaurant in Ferndale, Midwest AIDS Prevention Project’s CEO Craig Covey and Michigan AIDS Fund’s CEO Dave Coulter announced a historic merger that they hope will ensure the future of HIV/AIDS services in the state of Michigan.
The new organization, a fusing of MAPP and MAF, will be called the Michigan AIDS Coalition. The merger, effective on Dec. 1, will not be officially completed until mid to late January of 2009.
Talks between Covey and Coulter were initiated almost a year ago, when Covey decided the time had come to make decisions to ensure the future of AIDS organizations in Michigan’s tough economy. The two men found that their work fit perfectly together. “We began talking for economic reasons, but as we looked at it, the merger made sense on so many other levels,” explained Coulter.
Both MAPP and MAF have worked to provide HIV/AIDS services to metro Detroit, including prevention, treatment, outreach, testing and education. Through the change to becoming the Michigan AIDS Coalition, they have promised to keep all current programs and staff.
The merger announcement of two of the state’s largest HIV/AIDS organizations comes just days before World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, when Coulter and Covey will make a more official announcement to the press and community. “We thought that would be a good time to announce this,” said Covey.
“It’s World AIDS Day and we wanted as many people as possible to know that we’re excited about this,” Coulter added.
The merger, Covey said, is crucial given the harrowing fact that 25 years into the epidemic, HIV/AIDS still rage on. “AIDS, evidently, is not going away,” he admitted. “When I started MAPP in 1988, I didn’t think this was going to be my career.”
But, with his retirement just a decade or so away, Covey hoped to ensure that programs like needle sharing, HIV testing, prevention efforts and outreach – programs provided by both MAPP and MAF – would be around for future HIV-positive Michiganders in need.
Though Covey and Coulter promise that no jobs or benefits will be cut, they are looking forward to cutting costs in other ways through the merger. Things like rent, taxes, insurance and administrative costs will be greatly reduced, Covey said.
However, when the merger officially takes place, both organizations’ workers will be relocating to a new office – the location of which is yet to be determined, though Covey promises it will be in Ferndale.
With the loss of some extra costs, the Michigan AIDS Coalition hopes to offset the costs of programming and services without worrying about increased outside funding, which is rare in the current economy. With donations, grants and government funds down, said Covey, the merger will help to ensure that all programs – and jobs – stay in tact. “The goal is to be able to increase or not reduce programming in this recession,” Covey said.
Though neither organization was in a dire financial situation, the two men saw the merger as a proactive move against possible future economic struggles. “The goal here is to become a stronger, more sustainable organization,” Covey explained, meaning that the non-profit will have longevity beyond the scope of just the next few years.
A national search for a new CEO has already begun.
Covey and Coulter will both remain on staff, but neither is vying for the position. “We want new, fresh ideas,” Covey said. “It’s not that neither Dave or I couldn’t do it.”
Both men have other jobs outside of their AIDS organizations. Covey currently serves as mayor of Ferndale, while Coulter serves as Oakland County Commissioner. As such, they decided to open up the CEO position to someone who would take it on as their sole occupation, allowing them to devote all of their energy to the Michigan AIDS Coalition.
Several local leaders in the LGBT community noted that the merger is a sign of changing times, and that the possibility for similar collaborations is on the horizon. “It’s an example of what a lot of our organizations need to do,” said Affirmations CEO Leslie Thompson.
“We’re all working together to better Michigan,” commented Triangle Foundation Youth Coordinator Brett Beckerson, “and it’s great that we have such visionaries as Dave and Craig to see the need for collaboration.”
Added Covey: “I suspect this may just be the beginning.”