L.I.F.E. Program Changing Lives

  By Cassandra Bent


About L.I.F.E.

BLC L.I.F.E. Program

L.I.F.E. Meetings at the BLC

BLC L.I.F.E. Graduation



About L.I.F.E.

Scientifically proven, the L.I.F.E. (Learning Immune Function Enhancement) program offered at the Boston Living Center is changing lives.

L.I.F.E. is an interactive program that teaches those with HIV/AIDS “sixteen cofactors, which have been proven to boost the immune system, reduce health risks and increase adherence to HIV medications,” according to the BLC website.

 Originating in San Francisco, the L.I.F.E. program was created by Shanti. Shanti was founded in 1972, and its mission is: “Shanti enhances the quality of life, health and well-being of people living with life-threatening illnesses, including Breast Cancer and HIV/AIDS.” According to the website, Shanti means “inner peace” or “tranquility.”

More than thirty years of research has gone into this program, and it is constantly re-assessed. According to the Shanti website, coordinators are always on the lookout for new issues that need to be addressed.

How does it work? Shanti explains that physical health can be improved when the nervous systems and immune systems are positively affected by “psychological and social cofactors.”

The way the L.I.F.E. program approaches this process is a new, “biopsychosocial,” outlook. According to the Massachusetts Resources website, “The program focuses on the relationship between the mind and body.”

 L.I.F.E. encourages both taking tradition HIV medication, and also inspection of the “internal” and “external” aspects that affect people living with HIV, according to Shanti.

 “It’s not just about medication, not at all,” said one new L.I.F.E. member at the Boston Living Center.


BLC L.I.F.E. Program

The Boston Living Center is the only location in Massachusetts to offer the L.I.F.E. program. L.I.F.E. meets twice a week for eight weeks, and ends with a graduation ceremony. Program leaders at the BLC include Coordinator Betsy Simmons, Member Services Manager Celixia Rodriguez, and two peer-facilitators who are L.I.F.E. graduates.

BLC members discover the program by word of mouth, referral by a healthcare or other type of provider, and encouragement from peer recruiters.

Becoming a part of the L.I.F.E. program takes multiple steps. “It is a big commitment,” said Betsy Simmons. To become a L.I.F.E. participant, BLC members have to meet with Betsy Simmons, sign an agreement letter, and complete an online self-assessment that lasts an hour and a half to two hours. This assessment is the beginning of the L.I.F.E. process, which involves “self-awareness” and “courage,” according to Ms. Simmons. 

The same self-assessment form is completed at the end of the eight weeks so that members can see their progress. For one of the peer-facilitators, this self-assessment was what made him realize L.I.F.E. changed his life. “It’s been an exciting journey,” he said.

This peer-facilitator decided to become a group leader because he wants to “give back some of that nurturing” that the BLC staff gave to him. “They fostered me; made me feel comfortable,” he said.

Typically, there are ten to fifteen members enrolled in the L.I.F.E. program at a time. Currently, the BLC is trying to attract more female members to the L.I.F.E. program because according to Betsy Simmons, there are often only one or two women per class.


L.I.F.E. Meetings at the BLC

Each meeting is based around a different cofactor. Some cofactors are: Risky & Healthy Behaviors, Toxins, Germs, Drugs & Alcohol, Greif & Depression, Survival Stress & Coping, Relationship with Healthcare Provider, and Life Purpose, Meaning & Goals.

Because Coordinator Betsy Simmons is also a yoga instructor, meetings begin with a moment of silence, meditation, or a reading, and always include some form of movement toward the middle, such as a breathing exercise. She describes the meetings as being “very interactive.”

The meeting continues with a few minutes to check in with members to see how they are doing. Next, is a twenty minute power point presentation about “the science of mind-body health,” according to Betsy Simmons.

Meetings proceed with a one on one debriefing period, followed by larger group discussion.  Ms. Simmons explained that just talking with another person and sharing thoughts with them has been known to help support the immune system.

According to Betsy Simmons, members then write in a journal about what they’ve done to support health that week and what they’ve done to risk it. After a ten minute social break, members make a plan for the next week. “It’s a positive, hopeful ending,” said Ms. Simmons.

Throughout the L.I.F.E. process BLC members have two to four individual health counseling sessions with one of the four facilitators.

Betsy Simmons explained that no person makes the right decisions for their body all the time. “We’re not going for purity, we’re going for balance,” she said.


BLC L.I.F.E. Graduation

“Life is short, and it’s up to you to make it sweet.”

-Sadie Delany in Having Our Say In the Delany Sister First 100 Years

This quote is located on page 241 of the Graduation portion of the Shanti L.I.F.E. Program Participant Guidebook Version 3.2.

Graduation is an exciting time for L.I.F.E. members, but their work does not end there. “It’s the beginning of a long journey,” said Betsy Simmons. The Boston Living Center L.I.F.E. graduation is held in the Dining Facility. There is a meal, followed by a time for graduates to speak. Each graduate is given a donated gift and a certificate, and their picture is taken.


The latest L.I.F.E. session at the Boston Living Center has fifteen members and began March 16th.


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