In this multi-media presentation, Jerry Permenter, founder of the East Texas AIDS Project, will read excerpts from his forthcoming AIDS memoir about those years, including his personal struggles, to demonstrate the fear, compassion and aftermath of his years establishing a system of care for those living with HIV. This is his first public presentation of work from his AIDS memoir, “Red Dirt Boy.”
The event takes place on Sept. 12 @ 7 p.m. (doors open at 6) at Bethany Presbyterian Church. It is FREE & open to all. Refreshments will be served.
About Jerry Permenter:
Jerry Permenter grew up dirt poor on a red dirt farm 15 miles from the Nacogdoches city limits, without access to primary health care, as it was unaffordable for a large family with limited resources. The experience influenced Permenter to build a career in health care that today still has an impact on the lives of thousands in his hometown and in South Texas. As the youngest of eight children, Permenter remembers drawing water from a well, as the family had no running water or telephone.
“We only went to the dentist when we needed to have a tooth pulled,” he recalls. “My sister had epilepsy with severe seizures, but we sought care only when something acute happened.”
Permenter subsequently devoted his life to ensuring adequate and accessible health care for all.
“As a young boy, the school bus I rode passed the window of a woman who was living inside an iron lung, and had been since she was a girl. I developed this heart of compassion for her, but didn’t know what to do to make it better,” he says. “Out of that, I started doing things to identify ways to help people.”
When the AIDS epidemic hit East Texas in the 1980s, Permenter found his calling. At age 30, he was a student at Stephen F. Austin State University struggling to find his way after working a variety of jobs ranging from welding to TV commercials.
He founded the East Texas AIDS Project and, within six months, was helping patients out of his home receive critical treatment. Twice a week, he drove patients to the East Texas Medical Branch in Galveston – a 400-mile round trip – becoming an underground railroad of sorts for people with AIDS. He received his first grant from the Texas Department of Health to provide breathing treatments for patients in his spare bedroom.
“I had no training as a respiratory therapist. I did it because no one else would do it.”
Permenter began receiving funding from other resources and soon his agency grew from his spare bedroom into a large organization serving a large geographical area of rural Texas. Over the years, he developed six health care projects of national significance and served on the board of the National AIDS Housing Coalition.
Today, he continues his work providing health care for the underserved in South Texas, recently opening the first Health Equity Clinic in San Antonio to provide health services for the LGBT community, with funding from the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The center also provides services for a cross-section of the community, including the elderly.
Today, Permenter is author of “Red Dirt Memories,” his first book of short stories and essays chronicling his experiences in East Texas. He has also created an online Facebook community highlighting the rural storyteller, now growing by an average of 1000 followers each month.
Permenter’s second book, an AIDS memoir, chronicling his years in east Texas when he founded the East Texas AIDS Project, will be released in 2020.