Port Arthur women starts initiative to help those with HIV

Published 12:48 am Sunday, April 30, 2023

When Kimberly Pete was 15, she was sexually assaulted by a man who had HIV. Now 45, the Port Arthur resident has been living with the disease for 30 years. That, coupled with her ongoing work in the community, has led to a new health initiative to empower women in Port Arthur, Orange and Beaumont.

365 South Team will soon be providing resources to those with HIV as well as test kits for those in need.

And her ability to help others came largely from two women who helped her.

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“In 2013, I was living a life that wasn’t very pleasing, and I decided that I wanted to turn my life around and wanted to start over,” Pete said. “I moved to San Antonio, and I went to a transitional house out there, where they help women get on their feet — women that are HIV-positive or do drugs.”

Newly Empowered Women, which was established more than 30 years ago, works to change behaviors, reunite families, eliminate substance abuse and create healthy images, according to the center’s website.

Women with HIV, experiencing homelessness or struggling with addiction stay from six to 24 months.

While there, Pete met Cheryl Johnson and Michelle Durham.

“Those ladies basically gave me a new lease on life,” she said. “They taught me a lot, showed me how to have patience and I ended up helping them with the women that came in.”

She returned to Port Arthur in 2015 and began work in the community. But it did not go unnoticed by her mentors.

Two weeks ago, Johnson called. Durham was starting a women’s health initiative in the Golden Triangle and wanted Pete to lead it.

Next week, she will have the first meeting with her five-person team, which includes a member of the Port Arthur Health Department.

The 365 South Team will focus on providing people with at-home HIV tests, setting up test sites, providing resources to those in need and giving bleach kits to those that use intravenous drugs.

“We’re not saying it’s OK to do drugs,” Pete said. “But if you’re going to do it, it’s better to be safe.”

The at-home HIV kit is critical, she said, as it could mean the difference between whether or not someone gets tested.

“Some people think they are going to be judged,” Pete said. “They’re scared people are going to treat them differently. Being able to test yourself in the privacy of your own home gives you time to think, time to breathe, time to look up resources. And that’s what I’ll be here for — to give them options, to talk with me, to give them every resource they need. We’re trying to get our Golden Triangle as healthy as possible.”

For more information on 365 South Team, call 409-433-4268 or email 365southteam@gmail.com.