Since 1985, the Greater Community AIDS Project – known as GCAP – has been a fixture in east-central Illinois thanks to its HIV education and support services geared toward people living with HIV in east-central Illinois.
Now, GCAP is actively searching for an executive director, and three candidates are in the running.
At the end of June, the current director, Mike Benner, will leave his position to move to Lafayette, Indiana, to be with his partner and family.
Benner has served as the executive director of the organization since 2012. He said he began volunteering at GCAP about 16 years ago.
“I think GCAP – in general – has just been something very close to my heart,” he said.
After being diagnosed with HIV in 2002, he became a resident of Champaign House – GCAP’s transitional housing facility for people living with HIV in the community. Benner said he was already receiving this support from GCAP before he started volunteering there.
Benner said it’s important for people living with HIV to have somewhere besides the health department and hospitals to get information about HIV/AIDS.
“Being (HIV) positive myself, they’re talking to somebody that has gone through everything that they have – well, I can’t say everything that they’ve gone through – in the whole process of dealing with HIV,” he said.
During his time as executive director, Benner restructured the organization’s food bank program and improved its transitional housing facility for people living with HIV, known as Champaign House.
According to Benner, 40 people have lived in Champaign House over the past decade, with at least 75% of them moving into permanent housing afterward.
Benner said he’s been waiting for the right time to retire but needed to ensure that the agency would still be in a good place to continue after he leaves.
“Certain things have to align to make sure that the agency can be viable in the future,” he said. “I mean, it’s not my agency by any means, and I don’t mean to make it sound that way. But I want to make sure that it was at a good position for me to leave.”
Laura Koritz, the secretary of GCAP’s Board of Executive Directors, said Benner notified the board of his upcoming resignation in April.
She said the board has already conducted initial interviews. About 15 candidates applied, but only three are in the final running.
Ideally, the board will make its decision as soon as this week, Koritz said, so the new director can work with Benner before he leaves. But she said it’s going to be a crunch.
“I know that Mike has started to think about what it would look like to keep on a couple of weeks past when he was initially hoping to pass the torch,” she said.
Koritz said the board is looking for someone who is knowledgeable about HIV and working with nonprofits.
Regarding GCAP’s future, she said the board envisions a director who can adapt to the ways in which HIV, people living with HIV and society’s perception of HIV change over time.
“What HIV looks like in our community has changed really greatly since GCAP came to be in the mid-80s,” she said. “The population that we serve looks different. The types of services that we offer have continued to grow and change.”
One of the challenges, she said, is balancing clients’ confidentiality while also being transparent with the community about GCAP’s endeavors.
“We can’t always advertise exactly what we’re doing because people are trying to maintain their privacy,” Koritz said. “But we also want to be outward-facing to the community of what GCAP is and what we’re doing, and that can be hard to balance.”
Koritz said the next executive director will be stepping into a position with “weighty significance.” She said it’ll be difficult to find someone to replace Benner.
“As we’ve been looking for a new candidate, I feel like we have gotten 150% out of Mike,” Koritz said. “To find somebody to fill in his shoes, it’s gonna be a challenge. We’ll do it, and we’ll move forward, but we’re definitely sad to see him leave.”