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A Man of Faith (in Others): Terrence Zealand, Ed.D. G'71

A Man of Faith (in Others): Terrence Zealand, Ed.D. G'71
Terrence Zealand, Ed.D. G’71 and his wife, Faye

Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, a counseling alumnus’s organization has taken in more than 1,700 babies with HIV.

It was 1987 when Terrence Zealand, Ed.D. G’71 and his wife, Faye, opened a one-family brick home in Elizabeth, New Jersey, for HIV-positive babies. This was the year that AZT, the groundbreaking HIV treatment medication, was approved by the FDA, but years before the dramatized story chronicling the discrimination against Ryan White, a boy who contracted the virus through blood transfusions. But Zealand and his wife were already bringing young children who were HIV positive — feared in the outside world, feared even in hospitals — into a home they called St. Clare’s.

They had already begun a foundation for people with AIDS, the AIDS Resource Foundation for Children (ARFC). Their idea for the home began after they met a baby in a hospital in Newark, New Jersey, whose mother had AIDS.

“Nobody would take the baby,” recalled Zealand. “Everyone was afraid of it. We knew the mother would die and the baby would have no place to go.”

More than 30 years later, the graduate counseling alumnus from Trenton, New Jersey, and his wife have made possible the care of more than 1,700 babies. It would always be hard to watch the babies get sick and die, he said, but the very beginning was hard in other ways, too.

The night they opened St. Clare’s Home for Children, a rock came crashing through the window. A voice outside cried, “Get out of the neighborhood!”

Although it turned out to be an isolated incident, Zealand was undeterred. It has been his faith in others, like the dozens who volunteered to hold and play with the babies in Elizabeth that first year, that have buoyed him throughout his career.

From Seminary to Scranton

During high school, Zealand began training to become a priest at a Franciscan seminary but left after 11 years of training. His younger brother, already a Scranton alumnus, suggested he check out the graduate counseling rehabilitation program at the University. After securing a federal training-ship, Zealand enrolled, working as a resident assistant in order to help pay for his education. He was already dating Faye, who began working at Head Start in Scranton. They married during his third semester in graduate school.

“Faye is African-American. Scranton was a safe and accepting place for us at a time when not all places were accepting of interracial couples," said Zealand. "I think it was the Jesuit influence; we were surrounded by enlightened individuals.”

He applied some of his counseling research at Scranton to his internship working with people with disabilities. His studies and internship influenced the vocational training he developed for those with drug abuse issues in a subsequent position for the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services in the narcotics and drug abuse division.

His Scranton professors followed the work he did in New Jersey and, long after he graduated, reached out to tell him so. “That kind of support you don’t really get from other graduate programs,” he said.

He mimicked that level of academic and career support at the Collier School, a private, nonprofit school for students with disabilities, where he spent a decade as principal director.

Growing the Foundation

After seeing how important St. Clare’s was to children, the Zealands opened two more homes for babies in New Jersey, began housing programs in Newark for homeless people living with HIV/AIDS and opened a summer camp for children suffering from chronic illnesses.

Then, in 1992, their reputation of harboring children with the virus preceded them. They were approached by the Center for Constitutional Rights, and in conjunction with the Justice Department and the Department of Defense, the nonprofit assisted in bringing 30 pregnant, HIV-positive Haitian women, who were being held at Guantanamo, into the United States to give birth. 

“Early on, AIDS was considered a Haitian disease,” said Zealand. “They tested those who they rescued after the coup and those who tested positive were put behind barbed wire.”

After getting approval from the government, the Zealands drove with their 5-year-old daughter to Andrews Air Force Base and brought the Haitian women to New Jersey.

“That was a beginning of an adventure for us,” he said. “Law students from Yale and Columbia took up these women’s cases, and they eventually got political asylum in this country.”

Autumn Years

Today, AIDS medications are more effective, cheaper and more accessible. The organization, which his son now runs, has changed.

“We’re not seeing HIV babies now, but medically fragile ones,” said Zealand. “Some babies are in pretty bad shape; they’ve been abused. It’s pretty hard to see. Sometimes they come to us pretty damaged.”

ARFC also opened a family center in the middle of Newark, which provides services to families with HIV, ranging from after school programs for those who have lost parents to AIDS to programs for young gay males who are homeless with HIV.

Zealand is now retired, but remains involved. For about four years, he’s been running a recovery group for men who are HIV positive, many of whom were previously addicted to drugs or incarcerated. One of the men in his group has ALS in addition to HIV. He lives in one of the organization’s housing units alongside others in Zealand’s group. When his home health aide doesn’t come, another man in the group, Kevin, makes sure he gets breakfast and helps him manage his incontinence.

Zealand commended Kevin for looking in on his friend, who said, “Doc, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do while you’re still here on earth?”

Zealand was floored.

“In the autumn of my years, it is nice to experience men helping one another,” said Zealand. “Although I didn’t become a priest, things have come full circle. I feel I’m doing spiritual work. I watch my son running the foundation and the work that continues to be done, and I’m proud. It’s really a nice life to look back on.”

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