A 28-year-old Billings woman has been named executive director of Yellowstone AIDS Project, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to increasing HIV/AIDS awareness and providing prevention and client services in Montana.
Morgan Ditto, who has worked as the organization’s prevention coordinator for the past two years, began duties Monday. She was selected from a pool of 15 candidates after a nationwide search. Ditto will oversee a budget of about $500,000.
Skip Godfrey, president of the board of directors, described Ditto as a “spark plug” who will move the organization forward.
“She has an aura that surrounds her when she walks in the room,” Godfrey said. “She has a way of identifying with young people that will significantly benefit the organization.”
As prevention coordinator, Ditto focused on fostering relationships with potential sponsors, donors and clients living with HIV/AIDS. She created and managed the Mpowerment Project HIV prevention program, which is specifically designed to address the needs of young gay and bisexual men. Scientific studies show that the program reduces the rates of unprotected intercourse among this group and lowers the rate of new HIV infection.
One of her goals is to further educate the community about HIV/AIDS and underscore the idea that HIV infection does not discriminate.
“People of any gender, ethnicity, age, income or sexual orientation can — and do — contract HIV,” Ditto said.
There are more than 500 people living with HIV in Montana, and more than 25 percent of them live in Yellowstone County. The Yellowstone AIDS Project has experienced a 20 percent annual growth in the number of clients it serves and it shows no signs of slowing. It has about 170 clients.
While the number of new HIV infections in Montana has been steady for the past several years, many HIV-positive people move here from out of state or move back home to Montana after living in larger, urban areas. They are often in search of supportive services and quality health care which is something Yellowstone County has to offer.
“A stable home and access to medical treatment is vital to an HIV-positive person’s health,” Ditto said.
Against that backdrop, Ditto’s overarching goal is to make the Yellowstone AIDS Project a household name that is associated with education, prevention and support. She plans to capitalize on her youth to make that happen.
“My age gives me an ability to relate to the young-adult population and their specific needs and values,” Ditto said. “I bring a high level of energy and creativity to the organization and feel this can help us adapt to the changes the future may hold.”
Ditto replaces Dean Wells, who accepted a position at St. Vincent Healthcare. Clint Fausett, 25, who has been heading up the Montana Outreach, Referral and Education (MORE) Project for Yellowstone AIDS Project, has taken over as prevention coordinator.