World AIDS Day a time to reflect, educate
WINCHESTER — Twenty-five years after the first World AIDS Day, there is still too much stigma and not enough education about the syndrome and the virus that causes it.
About 50 volunteers, health workers, students and community members gathered Sunday at Shenandoah University’s Goodson Chapel for University Chapel at Noon’s commemoration of the event.
A panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt was on display in the chapel, and a red ribbon draped a cross.
The service was led by the Rev. DeLyn Celec, campus minister for the university, and the Rev. Mary Bohacek, who is with the Shenandoah Valley Metropolitan Community Church.
Several students did a reading on receiving an HIV diagnosis.
“Being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS can happen to anyone,” one said.
“Who’s going to love me once they find out I tested positive?” another asked.
A third student said, “Just remember, this diagnosis isn’t the instant death sentence it was in the past.”
John Nagley, executive director of the local AIDS Response Effort (ARE), spoke during the communion service.
“Each year, we gather Dec. 1 to honor and celebrate those individuals who have surrendered their personal battle of HIV,” he said. “[It is] important to lend our support unsolicited to those who fight so bravely each and every day.
“I want to try to put a face to the epidemic. That person is a single mother struggling to put food on her table. A sister, a wife, a daughter ... I’m your friend, your neighbor, your dentist, the person who waited on you last time you came through the checkout at the grocery. I’m the person sitting next to you. Simply put, I’m possibly any one of you.”
The church hasn’t always been supportive in the fight against HIV and AIDS, Celec said.
“Why does the church have such an issue?” she asked. “I think it’s the same reason we all have issues. We’re scared of the unknown.
“We dream of overcoming these things. We dream of equality. We dream that maybe some day we will be an AIDS-free world, we will be a stigma-free world. And, unfortunately, many are hated for those dreams.”
Winchester resident Robert Moten Jr. came to the service to honor friends he has lost to AIDS.
“I feel things have changed,” he said. “Medicine’s come a long way, still needs more work, but it’s definitely a lot more [improved], and people are more aware. But, I’ve lost my best friend to it, a couple best friends, actually.”
Kenny Hulse is on the board of ARE.
“This was my first service,” he said. “I thought it was very moving.”
Hulse said he’d lost many friends to the disease over the years.
“Back in the ’80s, especially ’80s and ’90s, I lived in the D.C. area,” he said. “It just seemed like every time you turned around, there was another funeral to go to. It’s very impactful on your life and the community.
“People seemed like they were dying all the time. It seemed like a very quick thing.”
Fortunately, there have been no funerals of late for Hulse to attend.
“One of the reasons I got involved with ARE is to make sure we have a good education program here in the valley and that we’re sending the right message and helping folks overcome that stigma.”
Rhona Collins, an HIV/sexually transmitted disease health counselor for the Lord Fairfax Health District — which serves Winchester, and Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties — has been working with AIDS patients for 24 years.
“It was really nice,” she said of Sunday’s service. “It’s so important to include the religious community in the response to the HIV epidemic. Just to realize that religion should never be a barrier to caring for people who are suffering.”
HIV rates in the Lord Fairfax Health District mirror those for the state and nation, Collins said.
“Just like any other rural area, it’s a lot more hush-hush,” she said. “We’re certainly well-represented as far as cases go, it just may not be out in the open because of the response that people get.”
ARE serves about 120 HIV positive people, Nagley said after the service.
“And, there’s roughly 300 individuals [who have diagnosed with HIV] in the Lord Fairfax Health District area,” he added. “We’re very active in our outreach, and as a result of that, over the last probably six years, we’ve doubled the number of individuals that we serve.”
ARE can help with physician referrals, dental care, medical costs, housing and food assistance.
“Basically, you name it, we will find it for them,” Nagley said.
— Contact Sally Voth at email@example.com