During the 1980’s, when fear of HIV was rampant and fueled by a lack of understanding, two distinct programs developed in Billings. The first was the Billings AIDS Support Network (BASN), which was developed in part by a local gay and lesbian group called the Yellowstone Lambda Alliance. Services provided by BASN included operating an AIDS hotline and spending time with hospitalized AIDS patients. The second program was developed in cooperation with the Yellowstone City-County Health Department (now RiverStone Health), and was called the Billings AIDS Task Force (BATF). The BATF provided community education that included information about the legal, medical, social and mental health aspects of HIV/AIDS. In 1986, the decision was made to merge the two programs. The next four years were filled with diligent work by these members to form a proactive project and pave a path for future efforts.
Building upon the work of these early groups, the Yellowstone AIDS Project was born. The year was 1990. Mothers and fathers were losing sons and daughters and the nation was struggling to cope with HIV/AIDS. A group of concerned community members which included Paul Clark, David Herrera, Christine Nightingale, Mary Hernandez, Donna Davis, and Kurt Nelson formed the founding Board of Directors of the Yellowstone AIDS Project. In August, 1991 YAP was incorporated as a non-profit organization.
In these early years, YAP operated mostly on volunteer efforts and worked to raise awareness and provide basic education regarding HIV. As funding became secured, the efforts grew and became more formalized. Much of this growth was due to the development of several partnerships with community and statewide agencies; including RiverStone Health, AIDSpirit USA, Planned Parenthood of MT, and the Montana State Department of Public Health and Human Services. With time, the growing number of HIV-positive persons in Montana led to YAP providing supportive and empowerment services along with education.
Today, the Yellowstone AIDS Project is one of the largest HIV prevention agencies in the state. We provide supportive and empowerment services for over 160 clients and conduct prevention programs, including rapid HIV testing, that reach several thousand people each year. We have also earned a solid reputation and are involved with local and statewide coalitions that guide HIV services throughout the region and the entire State.