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From CWGHR to realize: Bob Leahy talks to Tammy Yates

Tuesday, 04 October 2016 Written by // Bob Leahy - Editor Categories // Community Events, Aging, Features and Interviews, Health, Living with HIV, Bob Leahy

When Canada’s national organization concerned with HIV and rehabilitation issues changes its name, what’s behind it? Editor Bob Leahy talks to realize (formerly CWGHR) Executive Director Tammy Yates to get the straight goods

From CWGHR to realize: Bob Leahy talks to Tammy Yates

Bob Leahy: Hi Tammy. I’m going to first ask you the obvious question: why the need for a name change from the Canadian Working Group on HIV and Rehabilitation (CWGHR)?

Tammy Yates: Well as you know Bob, since 1998, the organization has really been a leader and a catalyst for improved access to rehabilitation services, including mental health services, here in Canada and internationally. We have done that by bringing together research, education, policy, practice and connecting people who would otherwise not be connected. However, we have been evolving and reflecting on what we do and how we do it for some time. Five years or so ago our founding Executive Director, Elisse Zack, who passed away two years ago and her then board started the work on thinking about rebranding ourselves. Although we had a very broad understanding of rehabilitation our external stakeholders had difficulty in understanding what the Canadian Working Group on HIV and Rehabilitation was about.

Yes, I have to admit that in the early days I thought, or at least it sounded to me like, that it had to do with getting people with HIV back to work.

You were not the only one. Across the board, that was the external perception, with confusion about who we were and what we did. When I started in the position, the board wanted to put the rebranding issue within my mandate and have it done as quickly as possible. So just before last summer we hired a rebranding consultant and formed a rebranding sub-committee that was made up of a balance of board members including those living with HIV, other stakeholders living with episodic disabilities and staff members.

And that work resulted in your choice of the new name realize, which I think is very cool for a number of reasons. But tell me why you settled on that name.

Honestly, Bob, it succinctly and poignantly tells the story of who we are and what we are at the core in terms of trying to support people living with HIV and other episodic disabilities to reach their full potential.

Yes, the concept of realizing potential came first to mind when I saw the new name. But you also had some very good ”re- words” that you played around with at the launch of the new name last week in Toronto.

Yes, in the rebranding workshop that we did there was much discussion about taking “HIV” out of the name, taking “Canada” out of the name, taking “rehabilitation” out of the name. We realized though that the Latin word “re” linked to what we do again and again – we reconnect, we reassure, we realign, we reenergize, we rethink, we reintegrate – and therefore one of the proposals brought to us was “realize”.  And “realize, with the tag line “fostering positive change for people with HIV and other episodic disabilities” was a clear and unequivocal front-runner.

I liked it too.

We haven’t had a single negative reaction. What has been the most meaningful thing to us has been the community’s positive reaction to the transition. But here’s a funny story: someone did come up to me at the end of ‘the big reveal’ and ask “what does the acronym realize  stand for?”

(laughs) We have been hung up on acronyms, it’s true. I’ve been in the movement for some time and I have to say that “CWGHR” was the biggest mouthful that I couldn’t get my mind around and the one I had to think about the most. It was such an odd collection of letters. So you had a grand unveiling this past week and I think everyone was impressed by how well you had kept the new name a surprise. That must have been awfully difficult.

Yes when the actual decision was made on the new name, it became a challenge. We were so excited about it.

So Tammy, will the rebranding have any impact on the work you do or the directions you take in the future?

Honestly no, in terms of what we do now. The rebranding is actually catching up in defining what we have been doing for the last eight or nine years.

So given that it’s been not uncommon for people to be unaware of the kind of work you do, talk a bit about the areas you work on.

As CWGHR did in the past, realize will continue to work in four key areas on HIV. Those are access to rehabilitation services; employment and income security; mental health; and aging, which is a critical area because the community we serve is the first cohort of people living with HIV who are aging – and along with that comes a myriad of issues.

It’s worth mentioning of course, Tammy, that your most recent full-day forum in Toronto was in fact on HIV and aging.

Yes, it just so happens that the first national dialogue on HIV and aging was done by the then CWGHR about six or seven years ago. At this juncture, it’s even more critical because of international recognition of HIV and aging as an important issue, due to so many factors. So the rebranding was the perfect opportunity for us to revisit and take stock of where we are, where we have come from and most importantly, where we need to go.

So this work would reflect to some extent on the issues of long term survivors and I only mention it because it’s a specific community that considers itself neglected, under-researched and under-serviced, so I’m hoping some of your work centres on their issues.

Yes, that is a given. The core group of community members who sit on our board and on our advisory committees are long term survivors. So those issues are very much prioritized in the context of the National Coordinating Committee on HIV and Aging (for whom we are the Secretariat) and of course, for us here at realize.

(left) editor Bob Leahy with Tammy Yates on a day off in Durban, South Africa from AIDS2016

It occurs to me too, you always had a focus on episodic disability. But how episodic is illness associated with HIV in 2016? It’s not what it used to be. Is it?

No and that’s good news Bob. For most people the episodic and intense nature of any HIV-related  impairments they may experience are reduced with access to current treatment, but the reality is that this is not the everyday life story for everybody. Some communities, for example, the First Nations communities and newcomer communities that may be disproportionately affected, there are still some challenges in employers’ understanding of when people living with HIV  may or may not be well, and ensuring there is accommodation and that there are resources available when and as they are needed.

I think the accommodation issue is still very much around Tammy. We saw in your panel last weekend for example, a woman with HIV struggling to hold down a job at a major bank and was finding that while they were providing accommodation it couldn’t really shield her from the kind of work stresses she was experiencing and that were damaging to her health.

Yes, and so many people are talking about issues of income security related to work but also the mental health implications of, for example, trying to return to the work force. And of course because of our close connections to the employment sector we see the stigma and discrimination that still exists unfortunately.

Right. Tammy I think you have spoken well on what realize  does and the rebranding, but I can’t let you go without mentioning Ron Rosenes’ marvelous quote last weekend in Toronto: “rehab is fab!”

Yes, with realize, CWGHR has really come of age.

Thanks Tammy. 

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