Office Doors: A Day with Jimmy Thomason

Jimmy Thomason by Scott Foust

Executive Director of Aunt Rita’s Foundation


My day can begin one of two ways — either I wake up early and go to gym class, or I get up at 7 a.m. and rush to get out the door with a bowl of cereal in hand. Both options are up for grabs every day. Regardless of which occurs, I take our four dogs — two at a time — on walks.


When I arrive at the office, I try to get through emails before everybody else arrives. I do not check emails during meetings out of respect for the people in the meeting. My staff had to get used to the fact that I did not immediately respond. Now, they respect and understand my practice.

My morning email correspondence runs the gamut and can include ASU asking for our assistance with a study, organizations inquiring about our best practices, event planning for our upcoming youth retreat, or taking care of the leak in the conference room. I came from the corporate world, where I was at Bank of America for 12½ years and thought my prescriptive lifestyle was hard. Then I became executive director of an organization where you are the plumber, janitor and decision maker who also needs to be cool, calm and collected at all times. I am grateful for this job of my dreams.

I meet one-on-one with an employee, discussing  their day and what they might need from me, or we have a team meeting. After this, I connect with our event sponsors or a supporter of Aunt Rita’s to catch them up on what we are doing. I rarely take a break before or after these meetings.


Joining Aunt Rita’s is a full-circle moment for me. In 2005, at the age of 22, I tested HIV positive. I used the agencies Aunt Rita’s supports for medical assistance, groceries and transportation. During that difficult time, I was living in a studio apartment and eating tortilla chips for dinner. Over the years, I became comfortable talking about my status. I started raising money for AIDS Walk Arizona and volunteering with HIV organizations. I joined Aunt Rita’s board in 2015 and then served as board chair in 2019.

One important aspect of this role is your direct link to helping individuals. I receive phone calls from community members who say, “I just tested positive and have no clue what to do” and “I just moved to Phoenix and am out of medication and don’t have insurance or a doctor. What do I do today?” One of the biggest challenges is my investment in each circumstance because I care so much and spend all my energy focusing on that. Then I’m tired but still must get everything done. I’ve had to learn to keep boundaries better than I did in the corporate world, where boundaries are expected.


We receive many suggestions on where to focus our HIV legislative work, and our advocacy looks different every year. For example, the “No Promo Homo” law that disallowed the discussion of homosexuality in public schools was repealed and a law was passed for HIV tests to be general consent instead of opt-in. You previously had to choose to take the test until this law passed, and now you can opt out. In the coming year, we’re going to work on HIV testing for individuals who are pregnant to make sure they and their babies are healthy. Currently, it is not required for a pregnant person to have an HIV test. However, if an HIV diagnosis occurs before the third trimester and treatment begins, the baby has nearly a zero percent chance of being born with HIV.


One way Aunt Rita’s serves as the connector of the HIV community is by providing unrestricted grants to 14 partner agencies. We focus on collaboration instead of competition by bringing together partner agencies to learn best practices and work to ensure the community is taken care of. Many organizations reach out to us asking for our secret sauce for getting all these agencies to coordinate and collaborate because in almost every other state, HIV organizations are not talking and are fighting for the best employee, the grant and the contract. What has worked for us is our solid reputation and being known for 35 years as a trustworthy, hardworking organization with a passion for getting it done right. Collaboration is the only way we are going to stay connected and end HIV.

Every year, any organization with an HIV program can apply to be a partner agency. If selected, they receive $10,000 and, in turn, must complete volunteer hours and raise $1,500 for Aunt Rita’s, typically through the AIDS Walk Arizona. Our partner agencies receive everything raised at AIDS Walk Arizona, scheduled for March 25, 2023, at Tempe Town Lake.


After a committee, board or community meeting, it’s fun to come home and relax with my husband, Jesus, and our dogs. We have a big sectional and fill it with dogs and people. We talk about our day and let the day go so we can get some rest.

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About Julie Coleman

Julie Coleman is a contributing writer for Frontdoors Media. She is Principal of Julie Coleman Consulting, providing strategic philanthropy consulting services for individuals, families, businesses, foundations and nonprofit organizations.

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