With charisma and optimism, she hopes to vanquish HIV/AIDS.

We all set goals for ourselves. Some of us are just more ambitious than others. Take Ana Oliveira: "I want to stop the spread of AIDS," says the executive director of Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York City. Never mind that U.S. cases of HIV/AIDS are on the rise--recently passing the 1 million mark--while the issue of AIDS, domestically at least, has dramatically faded in prominence over the past decade. Oliveira is a force of nature. If anyone can help slow the epidemic, she can.

Her influence lies partly in her vision, partly in her charisma. The white-male base of GMHC was frankly skeptical when Oliveira--a lesbian Latina--was appointed to head the organization in 1999. But since then, she's won a loyal following and pulled GMHC out of $6 million in debt, all the while expanding programs for the traditional base and reaching out to new constituencies, like blacks, Latinos and especially women. She's even formed a strategic alliance with the AIDS Project Los Angeles. One payoff: when crystal methamphetamine took hold on the West Coast, leading to an increase in unprotected sex and new HIV infections among gay men, Oliveira was poised to launch a prevention campaign in New York before the problem reached crisis proportions. She put pamphlets and wallet-size cards in gay bars, restaurants and clubs, with frank information about the drug's dangers. She placed posters in bus stops. She offered support groups, drop-in counseling and an anonymous hot line. Since then, the campaign has been replicated in eight cities around the world, including Boston, London and Sydney.

But preventing the healthy from contracting HIV is only half the equation. The other half is halting risky behavior in those who are already infected. "For that, you have to offer support," Oliveira says, "not finger-pointing and stigma." That's why GMHC's services include computer training, nutrition classes, even free lunches, in addition to the usual HIV testing and condoms. For women, there is a Child Life Center where kids can play, so Mom doesn't have to forgo GMHC's services due to lack of child care. "I see AIDS as something that thrives because of enormous social injustice--poverty, powerlessness, lack of information," she says.

Although Oliveira now occupies a corner office, her passion for fighting AIDS was forged through two decades of work in drug clinics, the court system and substance-abuse programs. She saw her first AIDS cases before the disease even had a name. Yet through it all, she has maintained that change and healing are realistic goals. Perhaps that message of hope--more potent, ultimately, than scaremongering--has been her key to expanding GMHC while some AIDS organizations struggle to get by. When she says, "We can stop this epidemic," you want to believe her.


A summer camp for sick kids--in memory of a son who died too young.

From atop a 50-foot alpine climbing tower in the woods of North Carolina, an 11-year-old nicknamed Keke performed a brief victory dance. It was a typical summer-camp moment, except that Keke, like all 124 of her campmates, suffers from sickle-cell anemia. The red-blood-cell disease can cause debilitating pain, but at Victory Junction Gang Camp, an illness like sickle cell is just another obstacle to negotiate. On the camp's 72 acres, children who suffer from diseases like cancer and diabetes spend a week swimming and horseback riding.

One of eight Hole in the Wall camps for children with serious illnesses begun by Paul Newman in 1988, Victory Junction opened last summer in honor of NASCAR legend Richard Petty's grandson. Adam Petty had dreamed of opening a camp for sick children before he was killed in a 2000 racing crash at the age of 19; his parents, Kyle and Pattie, carried out his plan. At the official NASCAR charity, cabins are arranged around a racetrack oval and galvanized toolboxes serve as storage trunks at the foot of each camper's bed.

The camp's aptly named Body Shop is a full-service medical facility. But the emphasis isn't on illness. "People might think these kids are walking around in gowns with IVs in their arms," said program coordinator Pronto Parenteau as a raucous game of kickball raged nearby. "But these kids are more alive than any you'll ever meet."