"I have a safe place to deal with issues I can't anywhere else. And I can afford it because the groups are free of charge."
Vision, Mission, History
SASG envisions individuals in communities connected by the shared values of health and well being, personal development, and compassionate support of one another.
SASG, Is a non-profit organization that builds community and cultivates powerful, healthy lives by providing emotional support and personal development services to those affected by HIV/AIDS, the Queer communities, and those who love them.Our work is done in a spirit of safety, trust, inclusiveness, and celebration of individual differences.
SASG was founded in 1984 by three people; Josh Joshua, Stan Henry, and Ann McCaffray. In the spring of 1984 the first community meetings took place, eventually leading to the formation of the Seattle AIDS Support Group, with Josh, Stan, and Ann taking the lead in our development.
The first support group meetings were held in members’ homes. In January of 1985, SASG had a total membership of 18. By August the number had risen to over 50. At that time, there were two weekly support groups for people with AIDS. The “Shoulders” group, which provided support for caregivers of those living with AIDS, was also launched that year. The need for a larger safe space for people with AIDS grew, and the fledgling Seattle AIDS Support Group found its first public space home (shared with The Dorian Group) at Pike and Belmont.
In June of 1987, SASG moved to a place of its own —a reconverted bar on the corner of 15th and Denny. It was a dark and funky space until group members doused it in teal blue, magenta, dark purple, and a couple of other colors. Only one room had windows, so it became the drop-in center. Two closet-sized rooms served as offices, and two larger rooms —again, windowless— served as group rooms. A tiny storage area in the back was converted into the semblance of a kitchen, and on St. Patrick’s Day of 1988, Ross Eddy, a retired chef, cooked the first Friday Feast, for 18 group members. Naturally, the dinner was corned beef and cabbage.
Being in our own space meant that SASG could set its own hours. SASG's longest-term phone volunteer, Caylee Richardson, began taking phone shifts in the fall of 1987. At that time it was a requirement for board members to take turns staffing the center on Friday night since there weren't enough phone volunteers to cover expanded hours.
The move to the new space came at a time of very tight finances. In fact, once SASG had to borrow money from a group member to meet payroll. Like lessons from the depression, lessons from that shoestring era were the impetus for SASG’s early focus on developing sufficient reserve funds. It’s a major reason SASG's doors are still open today.
After the move, SASG continued to develop new groups, including the following:
- a group for veterans with AIDS
- a Triple A group for those struggling with AIDS, alcohol and/or addictions
- a group for the newly diagnosed
- a group for women with AIDS
- a group specifically for heterosexuals with HIV/AIDS
- a grief group for parents of children and adults with HIV/AIDS
- a group on the eastside and
- our first gay couples group for partners whose relationships were being impacted by AIDS.
In the fall of 1988 one of the first of SASG’s major “departures from tradition” took place: a group was created for people who were “only” HIV+. This development marked the first major growth era in SASG’s programming. A list of current programming reflects how SASG's positive experiences with this initial growth have encouraged us to continue to expand our outreach. In addition to our continued support of those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, SASG currently develops programming and provides services for Queer/LGBTQ individuals.
In late August 1989, SASG moved into its present home. During the time in which SASG was housed at 15th and Denny, 81 group members and volunteers had died. Their names were written on the walls before the building was torn down. In the next 26 month period, SASG would lose 138 members; in the following 26 month period, SASG lost 172; in the next, 230. It was not until June 1996 that the death toll finally began to go down.
SASG's first Christmas tree sale was in 1990. John Kolling had to do a lot of talking to convince the volunteers and staff that this would make money. What SASG would give for him to see how that event has grown: from net sales of $11,768 in 1990 to nearly $80,000 net in the year 2010. Today, the annual Christmas tree sale is SASG's largest fundraising event.
The Mothers' group, for mothers of adult children with AIDS, started in the early ‘90s. By 1993 SASG had three satellite groups —in Bellevue, Renton and West Seattle. At that time, the average Friday Feast served 80-125 people. Also, David Seirda had started SASG’s Annual Mothers’ Day Tea to honor his own mother as well as all the others in that very special group. For the past decade the David Seirda Memorial Mothers’ Day Tea has been held. It is orchestrated by David’s mother, Kathleen, and others from the group.
By 1994 SASG hosted 40-45 support groups a week —all for the AIDS program. And, in 1996 a new group, called “Moving Forward,” signaled a change in the epidemic. It was not the cure for which all had hoped…more like a reprieve. With the advent of protease inhibitors, people began living longer.
It was that change which built SASG to where it is today, for the road that lies ahead. Currently, SASG offers a number of peer-facilitated groups each week. These groups include both HIV/AIDS-related and non-HIV/AIDS related groups, such as our growing programming for gay/bisexual/queer men, lesbian/bisexual/queer women, transfolks, and LGBTQ folks inclusively.
SASG had a new organizational name as of Summer 2004: Dunshee House. In 2004, after the departure of long-time Executive Director, Susan Dunshee, The Board of Directors came to realize that the programming offered to support the community was no longer reflected in the name Seattle AIDS Support Group. As the epidemic has changed, so have the needs of the community in terms of support; thus the Board of Directors chose to change the name to honor Susan Dunshee’s years of contribution to the organization and community, as well as offer a more broadly named organization in order to open up the possibility of providing support to the community at large.
SASG operated under the Dunshee House name for 7 years as programming changed and shifted away from the AIDS Service Organization that was at one time so vital to the community. Support needs of the community in those years, focused heavily on the rising substance abuse issues in the LGBTQ communities, as well as the continued need for support around HIV related issues.
As the years passed, many in the community felt that the name change was confusing and the name often misunderstood. In the spring of 2011, the Board of Directors, decided that it was time to look at getting back to the origins of the organization and changing the name to be more in line with the support provided to the community as well as paying homage to the SASG name. July 1, 2011, marks the official change of the organizational name back to SASG; this time however, the name SASG is for Seattle Area Support Groups & Community Center. The vision for the future of SASG is to continue providing support to the community, whatever the need may be, while providing a safe space for people to gather and share their experiences confidentially.
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