There are mean kids in school, and there are nice kids.
Stacie Lechot was one of the nice ones.
"The teacher always set me up with the new kid," she said. "Show them around the playground. In high school, I was a Natural Helper, your peers pick you, you're someone they come to with their problems. You learn how to help people get help."
Which is exactly what she's doing today.
Lechot on Monday was named executive director of the North Idaho AIDS Coalition, after serving as NIAC's case manager for four years. The nonprofit offers advocacy and care for people with HIV and AIDS. It is responsible for prevention and education in the five North Idaho counties, including teaching HIV 101 to at-risk youth or classrooms.
Lechot, a 1993 Coeur d'Alene High School graduate, brings energy, enthusiasm and passion to the three-person organization that operates from a small office on Government Way, with a budget of about $100,000.
She will be a liaison in the community raising money and awareness of NIAC and its 50 clients.
"They don't think anyone supports them out here, so I want to show them they are supported," she said.
How are things going as executive director of NIAC?
I've had a new energy since taking this position. I've been here for four years. Started my internship as a social worker at Lewis-Clark and was hired. I worked as a case manager for four years and it was a good fit to take over. It's in my blood.
Why did you want this job?
I used to be a human resource manager at Silverwood where we hired 500 people and I could help a lot of kids. I really liked that. So I went back to school to get my bachelor's degree in social work. This is where my internship was. It just sunk in. I have a passion for advocacy and education.
As director, what do you want to focus on?
I want to focus on getting awareness out there. Early testing, that's what the CDC is really focusing on. I'm also on the Idaho Advisory Council for HIV and AIDS that meets in Boise. We advise the federal government on what we need to do, where our funds need to go. It's really about early detection, getting care, teaching people about how to not be infected and not spread HIV.
What have you found is the general impression of North Idaho toward HIV/AIDS?
That it's not here. People are very surprised when I go out and teach it, that it is here. They don't want to talk about it.
So how do you get them to listen?
We try to make it casual and interesting. We'll do at risks, where people see what their risks are, once they see they are at risk, there's something they've done in their life that is risky, then we kind of talk about 'How can we change that so you're not at risk.' Or if you re infected, we do HIV testing for free and if we have someone who is infected, we get them in care, because that's the most important thing. If you're in care now, you can live just as long as anyone else. But it's the people who don't have care and don't know they're HIV positive who are getting sick.
What can the community do to help?
We are a nonprofit organization. We are always looking for people to come to our fundraisers. We have our annual fundraiser in October, it's going to be at the new convention center. And then just supporting us, knowing that we're here.
Is it hard to raise money here for AIDS?
We get a lot of doors shut in our face.
What was your reaction to that?
When I was an intern, it would make me cry. I didn't know people were like that. As a social worker, it makes you want to have more fire. You want to go out there and say 'You know, this isn't scary. You're not educated on this. You're not going to get it from drinking out of the same drinking fountain.'
Do most people know there is a NIAC in Coeur d'Alene?
We use to be in downtown Coeur d'Alene, in a building way in the back in a dark little corner. We decided we wanted to be out there. We finally have a sign. HIV has changed, we need to be out there, to tell people what's going on, to be safe and not to be scared, to educate people. Pretty soon everyone is going to know at least someone with HIV and AIDS the way it's going out there.
When did NIAC start?
It's been around since the '80s. It started as a gay man's support group.
Can you talk about who your clients are?
We have one-third heterosexuals, one-third IV drug users and one-third gay men as our clientele. It's even across the board.
Are people here with HIV/AIDS afraid to let others know about it?
In North Idaho, it's still a closet kind of thing. They're afraid they might lose their job, lose their friends, their family. I do have some clients who are advocates for us, who come out and do speak that aren't scared. But most of my clients tell minimal people, which is another aspect of the disease, isolation, being afraid of telling them who they are.
Is it different at NIAC?
Here, they can be who they are. There's nothing hidden here. That's why we're important.
Date of birth: Jan. 15, 1975
Education: Lewis-Clark State College, degree in social work, licensed social worker in Idaho.
Family: Husband, Rob. A daughter, three step-children.
Number of hours on average you work in a week: 40-plus
Number of hours on average you sleep in a night: 7
Hobbies: Gardening, walking, traveling.
Favorite book: "An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness" by Kay Redfield Jamison.
Favorite movie: "Where the Heart Is"
Favorite type of music: Country
Favorite spectator sport: UFC fighting
Best advice you ever received: Don't judge others because you haven't walked in their shoes.
Quality you admire most in a person: Integrity
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment: Being a single mom.
Person who most influenced your life: Ms. Benson at CHS. She was in charge of the child care. I had my daughter in high school. She was very inspiring.