Northeast Times

All in the family

Terrie Hawkins and her twins, Keisha and Kevin Diggs, are all dedicated advocates of HIV/AIDS awareness.

  • Twice as nice: Keisha and Kevin Diggs will be presented with the Ferrara Family Volunteerism Award on April 5 for their many years of AIDS Fund work. They are pictured with their mother, Terrie Hawkins, who tested positive for HIV while she was pregnant with the twins. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • A lesson in caring: Keisha and Kevin Diggs, shown at the Frankford branch library, will be honored by AIDS Fund Philly next week. Keisha is a student at Charter High School of Architecture and Design, and Kevin is a Constitution High School student.

Twins Keisha and Kev­in Diggs have grown up with the hu­man im­mun­ode­fi­ciency vir­us, com­monly known as HIV. For­tu­nately, the 17-year-olds from Frank­ford are not in­fec­ted with the vir­us, but their lives have been pro­foundly af­fected by it.

Their mom, Ter­rie Hawkins, tested pos­it­ive for HIV dur­ing routine pren­at­al test­ing while she was preg­nant with the twins. The chil­dren did not in­her­it the vir­us thanks to Hawkins’ early de­tec­tion and treat­ment, ac­cord­ing to the mom.

Non­ethe­less, Kev­in and Keisha have been in­fus­ing their strong work eth­ic and de­light­ful per­so­nas in­to Phil­adelphia’s vast HIV/AIDS sup­port com­munity as long as they can re­mem­ber, prob­ably longer. On April 5, AIDS Fund Philly — the city’s lead­ing ad­vocacy or­gan­iz­a­tion for HIV/AIDS aware­ness and ser­vices — will hon­or the twins for their many years of vo­lun­teer­ism. Kev­in and Keisha will be presen­ted with the Fer­rara Fam­ily Vo­lun­teer­ism Award dur­ing Black-Tie Gay­BINGO, the AIDS Fund’s an­nu­al gala fun­draiser.

AIDS Fund cre­ated the Fer­rara Award in 2005 in hon­or of Somer­ton res­id­ents Phil and Immy Fer­rara and their late son Philip, an as­pir­ing fash­ion de­sign­er and well-known Dan­cin’ On Air reg­u­lar who con­trac­ted HIV as a teen, de­veloped AIDS symp­toms and died from them in 1994 at age 23. After Philip’s death, first Immy then Phil used their own HIV/AIDS vo­lun­teer­ism to cope with their an­guish.

“We like to re­cog­nize vo­lun­teers who are sym­bol­ic of our en­tire vo­lun­teer pool and who go above and bey­ond in many ways. [Keisha and Kev­in] are rep­res­ent­at­ive of some of our best vo­lun­teers,” said Robb Reichard, the AIDS Fund ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or.

Keisha, a stu­dent at Charter High School of Ar­chi­tec­ture and Design, and Kev­in, a Con­sti­tu­tion High School stu­dent, began hanging around the AIDS Fund of­fice at 13th and Spruce streets as tod­dlers. Their mom took a part-time job there while study­ing for her high school dip­loma. Hawkins still works at the of­fice and is two months away from earn­ing a bach­el­or’s de­gree in so­cial work from Temple Uni­versity.

“The earli­est I re­mem­ber is when I was like 4. I think I was blow­ing up con­doms like they were bal­loons,” Kev­in said dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view at the Frank­ford branch lib­rary.

“I re­mem­ber we walked in the AIDS Walk with my friends. It was fun but I got a blister on my foot. I should’ve worn more com­fort­able shoes,” Keisha said.

The sib­lings have re­mained in­volved ever since, wheth­er it’s help­ing their mom around the of­fice stuff­ing en­vel­opes and shred­ding old pa­per­work or help­ing her staff in­form­a­tion­al booths at pub­lic events. The twins also work the monthly Gay­BINGO at the Ger­sh­man Y. Those monthly games are not to be con­fused with the gran­di­ose April 5 af­fair at the swanky Crys­tal Tea Room in the Wana­maker Build­ing.

“I mostly do it be­cause of my mom. I love her and we’re ex­tremely close,” Kev­in said.

“We al­ways feel like we’re help­ing people,” Keisha ad­ded.

Foun­ded in 1989, AIDS Fund is a part­ner­ship of 30 or­gan­iz­a­tions that provide ser­vices dir­ectly to those af­fected by HIV and AIDS while rais­ing pub­lic aware­ness of the need for early de­tec­tion and treat­ment.

As a city, Phil­adelphia’s HIV rate is five times the na­tion­al av­er­age and 50 per­cent high­er than New York City’s, Reichard said. About 20,000 people are liv­ing with HIV in Phil­adelphia with an­oth­er 10,000 in sur­round­ing com­munit­ies. Those num­bers are merely es­tim­ates be­cause about one in five HIV car­ri­ers are un­tested and un­dia­gnosed. What was once con­sidered a dis­ease for gay people and in­tra­ven­ous drug users now per­meates all sec­tors of so­ci­ety.

“HIV is still on the rise and people choose not to know their status,” Hawkins said. “Any­body that has sex needs to know their status.”

AIDS Fund also writes grant ap­plic­a­tions for its part­ner or­gan­iz­a­tions and raises money through the AIDS Walk and Gay­BINGO. The walk draws 10,000 to 12,000 par­ti­cipants to the Ben Frank­lin Park­way each Oc­to­ber, along with 500 to 700 bingo play­ers each month. About 400 vo­lun­teers staff the walk and 30 to 40 work the bingo games. AIDS Fund has just four full-time em­ploy­ees and one part-timer.

“We are a very small or­gan­iz­a­tion. We rely heav­ily on vo­lun­teers,” Reichard said. “Our part­ner or­gan­iz­a­tions on the front lines serve thou­sands of people every year and we reach lit­er­ally mil­lions of people with our pub­lic out­reach cam­paigns.”

The Fer­rara Award is one way that the or­gan­iz­a­tion re­cog­nizes those who help make all of that pos­sible.

“I think we were destined to win the award,” Kev­in Diggs said.

“I think they were born in­to it,” Hawkins said.

For in­form­a­tion about Black-Tie Gay­BINGO and oth­er AIDS Fund pro­grams, vis­it AIDS­Fun­d­Philly.org or call 215-731-9255. ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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