MobileAIDS SupportServices

In 1983/84 Martha Wood was a retired school teacher, turned social worker. She noticed a large group of young men coming back to Mobile who were dying, rejected by family, couldn’t work, and with nowhere to live. Martha, along with a group of other social workers realized they would need to get organized around a new disease effecting gay men called GRIDS. GRIDS was an abbreviation for gay-related immunodeficiency. This group applied to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, connected with the local community, and put in an application for funding to get services to these young men.

The group received the grant to everyone’s shock. A four year grant was used to organize Mobile Aids Support Services (MASS). MASS began its work as an active telephone hotline in the Unitarian Church on Government St. in Mobile. They were immediately overwhelmed with calls. Shortly after their founding, they located a site to rent in downtown Mobile (a small doctor’s office) and offered Aids testing counseling services which were rudimentary but pioneering. They grew fast and added staff. Later MASS received Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program funds for housing and developed and created housing in an old apartment building.

MASS began putting together volunteers and fundraising to keep everything running after the grant ended. They developed support groups for families and others (for example, PFLAG met there). By the early 1990s, MASS developed into a well-known community organization.
Support from local doctors came early with Bert Eichold, a Mobile County Health Department physician, leading the way. Eichold saw the importance of MASS as a resource for community health. At the time, few doctors would willingly treat AIDS patients. The early organizers of MASS consider Eichold’s support a game changer in providing medical support and education to the area.
Gordon Tanner was also brought on in the early 1990s as the first Executive Director. Due to Tanner’s work, MASS fundraisers became the place to be for exciting events and began raising enough money to support expansion of MASS’s work within the community. At the time, the board was 50/50 gay and straight people because the leaders of MASS believed they needed straight people to make things work. The visibility they gained really helped to bring the community together because people could “see” Gay people.
Credit: Gordon Tanner
This original flyer was produced in the late 1980s to let people know what MASS was providing to the community.
Credit: Gordon Tanner
MASS held several fundraisers throughout its time working in Mobile that brought together both the gay and straight community to help support people with HIV/AIDS.
Credit: Gordon Tanner
MASS received a great deal of news coverage in Mobile and around the state for their work to provide services for the most at risk for and with HIV.