The Doctor is IN and It’s Sal
For nearly two decades, the Health and Wellness Programs at CAMP Rehoboth have been the responsibility of Salvatore Seeley. Originally from New York State, Sal has called Rehoboth Beach his home for the past 19 years. He jokingly says he lives at the CAMP Rehoboth Community Center. Sal may be known for his manly moustache and hearty hugs, but there is much more to Sal Seeley than meets the eye.
Sal, you have served as the Health Programs Director for eighteen years now. How has the community’s perception of HIV/AIDS changed over that time, and how has the CAMPsafe Program evolved to reflect that change?
Sal: When we thought about an HIV/AIDS diagnosis then, people considered it a death sentence. There were few options for treatment, other than taking 20 to 30 pills a day. AIDS Education was all condom-based. CAMPsafe was originally contracted to do outreach to visitors during the summer months. A seasonal worker would reach out to the beach house network, which was flourishing at the time, to get in touch with gay men and give them HIV/AIDS information and condoms. We would also distribute condoms in the bars and on the beach.
Later, when rapid HIV testing became available and you didn’t have to be a phlebotomist to do testing, we started working with the Sussex County AIDS Council to provide HIV testing there once a week. Soon the data showed it was not only summer people coming to see us. The number of “men who have sex with men” was increasing in Sussex County, so there was a big push to expand our program to do more year-round activities.
At the same time, the gay men’s health movement was starting to come into its own. The thought was to move beyond condom use and HIV prevention, and to focus on sexual health. Fortunately we had office space at CAMP Rehoboth to be able to offer sexual health counseling in a private setting.
Because of your early work with the CAMPsafe program, many people in the community know you as “The Condom Guy.” How many condoms do you think you have given away over the past eighteen years?
Sal: I figure we have given out over 260,000 condoms, and we have also given away 300,000 lube packets and an additional 100,000 safer sex packets. That’s a lot of condoms and lube! I know that it was making a difference, because I could go into the bars and see the condom jars that were full one week would be empty the next week. Of course, I didn’t count the one time when I was multi-tasking, and I put a bucket of 150 condom packets on the roof of my car. I sped off and left a trail of condom packets all over Baltimore Avenue!
Your nickname “The Condom Guy” does not do you justice. You have a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Maryland, and in 2006 you earned your doctorate in Human Sexuality. We should be calling you Doctor Condom Guy! How do you use your advanced degrees in the work you do at CAMP Rehoboth now?
Sal: (laughing) I am also called “The Condom Fairy,” which is fine by me. CAMP Rehoboth afforded me the opportunity to get my Master’s and Doctorate degrees, which enriches the work I do for our Health and Wellness Programs. People know that “we know our stuff here,” and we are often called upon to be part of research programs or to do presentations in the community. My degrees and my being a part of this agency for such a time legitimize my work. Plus I love learning! Who doesn’t like talking about human sexuality?
The focus of your programs at CAMP Rehoboth has changed from disease prevention (particularly HIV/AIDS) to being more about health and well-being. How has that changed the types of activities that are offered by CAMP Rehoboth to the community?
Sal: For the CAMPsafe Program, we have moved from an outreach model to a medical model. We now offer HIV testing in five different locations in Sussex County. In 2017, we did more than 800 HIV tests! Our goal is to help people be aware of their status, not just for HIV but also other sexually transmitted infections. We work with people to give them options, whether it is a medical intervention like Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) or doing other things to maintain their HIV negative status. If they are HIV-positive, we spend time to get them connected to medical care.
With our other health programs, we moved beyond the HIV model to look at overall health. And it is not just men’s health issues, it’s about women’s health, straight, gay, bisexual, transgender. That’s the great thing about CAMP Rehoboth. We are an inclusive community. As Steve Elkins loved to say, our programs are available for everyone who needs help and walks through our doors.
And they certainly must be walking through the doors! Besides serving 400 people through the Flu Shot Clinic and the Wellness Screening Days with Beebe Healthcare last year, CAMP Rehoboth added nine new health events and increased the number of its ongoing discussion groups from 18 to 22. More than 600 people benefited from these programs.
Sal: Yes, we continue to see the need for different types of support groups. Our men’s group, formed in 2003, was our first attempt to address the overall health, and not just the sexual health, of our community.
We continue to offer new groups when we are able. It is easier now that we have this beautiful facility here at CAMP Rehoboth. We also have a wonderful Grants Team—in particular, Rebecca Moscoso—who works to secure funding for additional health programs. Without that financial support, we would not have had the opportunity to offer programs like Tai Chi or our Silver Pride Program, or to bring in speakers to talk about fitness, and so on.
We are being responsive to the community who said, “Okay, you’ve been doing Letters and HIV prevention work for a while now. What else can you bring to the community?” That was our challenge. That’s when we started looking at other community centers of similar size and nature, to get ideas about other ways to support the community. We were then inspired to start addressing lots of different health disparities experienced by the LGBTQ community.
CAMP Rehoboth’s Membership Campaign this year asks the question, “What makes CAMP Rehoboth good?” How would YOU answer that?
Sal: At CAMP Rehoboth we are all here for each other, to support and nurture and promote LGBTQ issues and rights in our community.
The mission of CAMP Rehoboth has always been about wellness, keeping ourselves healthy as individuals and as a community. Memberships keep CAMP Rehoboth healthy as an organization that keeps serving others. So please, join CAMP Rehoboth as a member or renew your membership this month by stopping by the office or visiting camprehoboth.com. Doctor’s orders!▼
Glen Pruitt, a CAMP Rehoboth Board Member, currently does quality assurance work for non-profit organizations and government agencies.