Networking Nutrition

Meet Ellen Berz. As AIDS Network Board President, she shares her pride in the Network’s ability to address the ever-changing needs of clients, including the reopened food pantry.

Where are you from?
I was born in Chicago and raised in Milwaukee. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin Law School, my legal career began as a prosecutor in Eau Claire. Personal and professional experiences (one of the most rewarding being the JFK School of Government’s Leadership Program at Harvard) strengthened my commitment to the underserved, leading me to my 20-plus-year career as a Public Defender (SPD). For years, I was Director of various SPD divisions—Trial (supervising all trial offices in Wisconsin), Assigned Counsel (supervising the approximately 1000 private attorneys who handle SPD cases), and Training (supervising the continuing education of staff and private attorneys). Currently, I am a trial attorney in the Madison SPD office (representing people charged with everything from shoplifting to homicide) as well as Adjunct Faculty at the U.W. Law School.

How did you come to be Board President of AIDS Network?
In 2003, I felt a need to expand my volunteer work beyond the legal realm. A friend at the medical school told me about the great work done by AIDS Network, which aligned perfectly with my growing interest in our community’s health issues. Working with AIDS Network also was in keeping with my commitment to serve as a voice for those whom society too often has left voiceless. After five years on the Board, I was honored to be elected President.

In what ways does AIDS Network serve the LGBT community as a whole?
There is a strong connection between AIDS Network and the LGBT community. Our volunteers, many of whom are members of this community, provide invaluable assistance ranging from answering phones to helping clients relocate to raising funds for the ACT Ride. As repeatedly expressed by our volunteers, helping AIDS Network help clients is one of their most rewarding experiences. In addition, men-who-have-sex-with-men (especially men younger than 35) is the group most affected by HIV/AIDS (accounting for over half of the new and increasing HIV infections in the country). Not surprisingly, members of our LGBT community who are not HIV+ are nonetheless more likely to know someone (brother, sister, friend) living with HIV/AIDS.

AIDS Network now has a food pantry. What is the mission of the pantry and what is your involvement?
Nutrition plays a significant role in maintaining the health of those living with HIV/AIDS. Due in part to the economy and the special dietary needs of our clients, the Board of Directors worked with Executive Director Karen Dotson and her amazing staff to revive the AIDS Network food pantry. In addition to providing healthy food, our staff Nutritionist counsels clients on optimal food choices and habits. We are confident that this investment will prove very beneficial to clients, nutritionally as well as psychologically.

What is the most important aspect (or aspects) to consider when addressing the needs of people with HIV/AIDS?
Those living with HIV/AIDS require a wide variety of care, support, and services. Obviously, proper medication and medical care are essential (Madison is extremely fortunate to have nationally renowned HIV/AIDS specialists). Helping to ensure access to care, connecting to the various local and federal medication assistance programs, and providing a safe place to share some of the challenges of treatment are all critical services we provide. Furthermore, we address important related areas such as nutrition, dental care, housing, psychological counseling, alcohol/drug treatment, social support, legal services, and fighting societal stigma. AIDS Network endeavors to provide a coordinated approach through the delivery of direct services combined with services delivered by our network of specialized partners. As the needs of our clients evolve, so too do our services, approaches, and collaborations. I am immeasurably proud of the work we do at AIDS Network and of the LGBT community’s strong support.

*Editor’s Note: Though no longer serving on the Board of AIDS Network, in 2012, Ellen Berz unseated Judge Roger Allen for the Dane County Circuit Court, the first time a challenger has unseated the incumbent in more than 20 years.  Judge Berz was elected Dane County Circuit Court Judge for Branch 11 in April, 2012.