ALL THAT “JAZZZ”

This post was written by our BSW Intern, Anita Peete

“Not to fear it. Try to understand it. Accept that it is among us. The best way to fight it is to come together.”

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While here at the Boston Living Center, one of my main goals is to get to know members on a collective level; but even more on a personal basis. In order to fulfill this goal I sat down with a member of the Living Center named Jazzz. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to get to know Mr. Jazzz, with an extra “Z”!

Jazzz is originally from Lewiston, Maine. He lived there until the age of 19. Jazzz has been a member of the Boston Living Center for the past 4 years. Although at first he wasn’t interested in coming to the Center, even after knowing so much about it; he came to the realization that it was “difficult to maintain the day to day routine.” He needed the support of those who fully understood what it means to live with this virus. No one understood what he was going through, so he came to the Center in order “to be in touch with the community. Those who were living with HIV.” Other ways that Jazzz works to maintain his life on a daily basis is through various hobbies. His hobbies include writing poetry and short stories, painting, being a member of the acting group. He also loves traveling, especially international travel. He has been to 5 different continents in his lifetime. He even had the opportunity to study in Mexico.

Just like the music, there are many levels to the person that is Jazzz. I discovered that he recently retired from teaching in the Boston Public Schools after teaching for 27 years. He taught everything from general education to Bilingual education. Yes! Bilingual education! Jazzz is fluent in Spanish! His best advice when learning Spanish is that you go to a Spanish speaking country and immerse yourself in the culture to learn the language.

Jazzz is a very vibrant and well-rounded individual. It was a pure joy to be able to sit down and get to know the wonderful soul that is Jazzz, with an extra “Z”! In closing, I asked Jazzz what he wants the world to know about HIV and those who live with it. His response was “Not to fear it. Try to understand it. Accept that it is among us. The best way to fight it is to come together.” Americans as a society has been known to come together in order to fight injustices, so it is important that we continue our fight against HIV, so that we can get to zero! It is because of the brave men and women, Like Jazzz, who share their stories that others are able to start to tear down the walls of stigma.

 

 

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The Power of Support

This entry was written by our BSW intern, Anita Peete

For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate.

-Margaret Heffernan

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The Boston Living Center is a place of comfort and support for so many people. The Center holds so much value to those who utilize the many services provided here. This is the one place that many of the members are able to find a sense of peace, hope, happiness, or joy. This past month that I’ve spent at the Boston Living Center has caused me to re-examine what life is all about: enjoying the many moments we experience with others.

The members come to the Boston Living Center because they are in need of support around situations that are occurring in their lives such as homelessness, medication adherence, relationship issues and other various pressures, but it is through groups like Bridges, G.L.E.M (Grupo de Latinos en Movimiento), meals, pottery class, beading class and so much more that for that moment the pressures of life do not exist. There is so much that impacts an individual that is HIV positive. This includes stigma, discrimination (although we want to believe it doesn’t happen anymore), the inability to work because of their illness. All of these situations have a major impact on how an individual who is positive views life, but when you have a place of support such as the Boston Living Center you are more likely to progress in a positive manner. Research shows that support groups and a strong support network helps individuals thrive. You are in a group with other people who are going through similar situations, and this is very important when it comes to those who are living with HIV. When someone is diagnosed with HIV, they may begin to isolate themselves or be ostracized by others.

I have witnessed this on many occasions, especially attending Bridges. While in Bridges, I have noticed the weight that is lifted off of so many members as they share and receive feedback from their peers on their struggles. It is moments like this that I am forced to enjoy. The overwhelming feeling of community here at the Boston Living Center is great to witness. There have been many times when I have seen small gestures of help being given, such as a member needing help carrying their take out downstairs and another member is quick to assist them.

Our daily interactions with others are vital to our continuous growth as humans. The strengths perspective is a theory that all individuals have something that is positive on the inside or around that can be used as motivation. A strong support is often an overlooked strength for individuals. The Boston Living Center is a part of many individuals support system.

There is power in our interactions that cause us to feel hopeful, appreciated, grateful or thankful. We are motivated to succeed when we see others succeeding. We are saddened by that which saddens a peer. We feel what others feel when we care for them. It is important for all of us to remember that we are not in this alone. We have each other and it is important that we utilize others when necessary. Marianne Williamson stated it best in her well-known poem entitled “Our Deepest Fear” when she stated the following:

As we let our own light shine,
we consciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.”

So continue to let your light shine and consciously give others the permission to do the same. It is through our interactions with others that we will liberate ourselves from our fears and our presence will automatically liberate others. I challenge you to take the time after you read this to get to know someone new. You just might be the light that they need!

National HIV/AIDS Strategy Rundown

Written by BLC intern Julie Lee

On July 30th, 2015, the White House released the new National HIV/AIDS Strategy: Updated to 2020. The new Strategy outlines four main goals: 1) reducing new HIV infections; 2) increasing access to care and improving health outcomes for people living with HIV; 3) reducing HIV-related disparities and health inequities; and 4) achieving a more coordinated national response to the HIV epidemic. The fourth goal is a new addition to the 2015 National HIV/AIDS Strategy, whereas the previous three were goals discussed in the 2010 National HIV/AIDS Strategy as well.

The Strategy also proposes four key areas to focus on: widespread testing and linkage to care, broad support for people living with HIV to remain engaged in comprehensive care, universal viral suppression, and full access to comprehensive PrEP services.

There are also indicators tied to each goal to measure how much progress is being made on a certain goal. There are some indicators that seem very unrealistic, such as “increase the percentage of persons with diagnosed HIV infection who are retained in HIV medical care to at least 90 percent” – 53.8% in 2012 – and “increase the percentage of persons with diagnosed HIV infection who are virally suppressed to at least 80 percent” – 50.1% in 2012. These goals are meant to be achieved by 2020, though, with five percent of the total change expected to occur in each of the initial three years (2011-2013), ten percent for the next four years (2014-2017) and fifteen percent for each of the final three years (2018-2020).

Regarding changes from the previous National HIV/AIDS Strategy to the new National HIV/AIDS Strategy, the new one seems to put more emphasis on providing PrEP and focusing on populations and areas with the greatest burden of HIV. I think that while full access to comprehensive PrEP and PEP services is important, it is equally important to increase public awareness of PrEP and PEP – a lot of people aren’t aware that they exist, let alone how effective they are at preventing HIV infection.

As I begin to wrap up my internship, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned. I feel that I know a lot about HIV – compared to what I knew at the beginning of my time here at the BLC. Or, at the very least, I know enough to read the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and be able to fully understand it, and even point out targets that seem unrealistic and areas that lack attention. It feels very rewarding to realize that I have made progress, and I feel grateful for having been given the opportunity to learn so much about HIV and the wonderful community we have here to provide support through living with HIV.

Strike a Pose!

Written by BLC guest blogger Rob Quinn

As a long-term survivor living and thriving with HIV/AIDS, I am continually seeking out new immune boosting health routines to help strengthen, relax and rejuvenate my body. One of the many services available free to Boston Living Center (BLC) members is a weekly one hour yoga class. Beginners, like me, are welcome. Yoga is an ideal exercise for those of us living with HIV. It is quickly gaining ground as an important complementary therapy in the treatment and management of HIV because of its adaptability and its physiological and psychological benefits. “Yoga is really all about opening up the flow of energy in the body. When the energy is moving freely, we are healing, repairing, and rejuvenating every single cell”. – Claire Diab, Yoga Therapist.

That being said, I signed up and took my first class on Wednesday, March 25, 2015 and have been with the BLC group ever since. I am on my way to becoming a yogi, even purchasing my own mat. Yoga asks us to come to the mat with a curious mind and an open heart. It teaches practical skills to eliminate stress and support immune function for enhanced health and greater quality of life. The integration of body, mind and spirit makes the practice a natural partner to combat HIV/AIDS by building muscle through movement and stress release via meditation.

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Like HIV-positive people, yoga comes in many forms. As a beginner, I am practicing iyengar yoga which has an emphasis on detail, precision and alignment in the performance of posture (asana) and breath control (pranayama). The development of strength, mobility and stability is gained through the asanas. Iyengar yoga is great for learning the subtleties of correct alignment. Props – meaning mats, blankets, bolsters, blocks and belts– help us beginners get into poses with correct alignment, even when they’re new to us, injured or simply stiff. Most yoga practices conclude with the savasana pose (my personal favorite), in which practitioners lie on their backs, arms and legs out, with closed eyes, and take deep pranayama breaths.

Through my continued yoga practice, I am optimistic, confident and determined that I will expand my tools to better “control the controllable.” I know and accept the fact that I cannot control my HIV status. However, I can control the co-factors or issues that can impact the health of my immune system and ultimately lead to optimal health outcomes. I don’t live with HIV, HIV lives with me! Yoga is also about self-empowerment, through a sense of standing on my own two feet and working on my own rather than having someone else do the work for me. Yoga provides a way to bring mindfulness into my daily life. It helps me to slow down and look at life week by week, day by day, hour by hour; using what I have, not always wanting more; learning to live in the moment.

Other things I am gaining from my yoga practice include strength, flexibility, concentration, increased self-awareness. Yoga asanas, relaxation techniques, and breathing exercises can help focus the attention and reduce mental “chatter.” By becoming more aware of my own body, mind, and spirit, I can also experience profound spiritual growth. I believe it is the spiritual aspect of yoga that has enhanced my ability to accept that there is so much beyond my control. It helps me realize, somehow, to further trust in a higher being.

A yoga practice can bring positive changes to your day even after ONE class. Some benefits you’ll notice right away include: a calmer mind, body awareness, and an awakened connection with LIFE. Yoga practices will change your mind and EMPOWER you to meet your true potential. Bottom line, yoga feels good. Please consult with your health care provider before beginning a Yoga practice. BLC members, sign up for Yoga every week by visiting the front desk or call 617 236-1012 ext. 0, to reserve your place.

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Namasté!

Cat bids farewell to the BLC!

Caterina “Cat”CatPicture Rodriguez has been our social work intern at the BLC for the past 8 months. As she moves forward in her journey at Boston College to become a social worker, it is time for Cat to say goodbye to the BLC and leave us with some thoughts of her experience here…

It’s hard to believe that my time at the BLC is coming to a close when it feels like my first day back in September was not too long ago. Having moved to Boston just two weeks before I began this internship, I actually had never been to the BLC, so I didn’t really know what to expect. Little did I know that I would be in for the surprise of a lifetime.

From my first day here, I was greeted with so much warmth and excitement by both staff and members, and given the freedom to really explore all parts of the BLC. There has never been a moment when I didn’t feel completely welcome. It was like I instantly became a part of this community. Because that’s what BLC is, a community. It’s much more than just an organization or agency. From the smallest details, like our open door policy, to the most intentional gatherings, like communal meal times, every aspect of the BLC functions to foster a sense of community that is often times hard to find.

Getting to know the members has been such an incredible gift. Between eating meals with me, allowing me to sit in on groups, or strolling into my office with a question or a casual conversation, the members at the BLC not only immediately welcomed me into the Center, but also invited me into their lives. It’s easy to assume that in my role as an intern I’m here to serve them and help them, but in reality, the members served me and taught me just as much as I did them. In the membership I got to witness incredible stories of struggle, heartache, resiliency, strength, and victories. And that is something I will never forget. From amazing life stories to commiserating over the insane winter season to laughing so hard my stomach hurt, the members at the BLC have given me so many moments that I will cherish forever.

Getting to be a part of the staff at the BLC for these past 8 months has also been quite the ride. After my first couple of weeks, I quickly realized that the staff here are much more than just work colleagues to one another. They actually share their lives with one another, from the smallest of quirks to the biggest life events to the most hilarious inside jokes. It’s a kind of family that is often times rare to find in a workplace. And it trickles down into the work that they do and the efforts they put into the Center. This unique sense of community is not only found in the membership, but also in the staff, as well as between members and staff. And just like the members welcomed me into their lives, so did the staff welcome me into their “work family.” In addition to all the awesome supervisory chats, laughs, office talks, and bonding sessions, I am taking away so many lessons in life and in work from these wonderful people I have gotten to call colleagues and friends throughout this past year. Each one of them has helped me learn and grow in different ways, both as a person and as a social worker.

So as I wrap this up, I just want to say thank you. Thank you to all of you at the BLC who welcomed me with open arms into your community and your family. What I am taking away from this experience is a lot more than just a broader knowledge base of HIV/AIDS or operational management. I’m taking with me the memories of each one of you, every conversation, every laugh, every life lesson. This is a very special place and a very special community, and I am both honored and humbled to have been a part of it. Wherever my future may lead, know that I will carry it with me in joy and gratitude.

Meet Rob Quinn: BLC Member and New Guest Blogger! (Part 2)

Welcome back, Rob!

Tell us a little bit about OpenlyPoz.com – when did you create it?

OpenlyPoz.com was launched November 16, 2012, on the 19th anniversary of my HIV-positive diagnosis.

The mission of OpenlyPoz.com is to empower and support my peers living positive, as well as others affected by HIV/AIDS, through sharing my personal stories and experiences of clearing HIV/AIDS and life’s hurdles R⁴ style—sometimes struggling, sometimes succeeding.

I believe that by putting a face to HIV, we can lessen stigma and make sure silent voices are heard. Whether or not you are directly impacted, we are all affected by HIV/AIDS.

What inspired you to start it?

Our voice matters! Being openly gay and HIV-positive, I feel a responsibility to pay it forward to the HIV community, both infected and affected. I live openly with HIV/AIDS in order to reduce stigma –  sharing my story to inspire, encourage and provide a voice to those who have been silenced.

I am a strong believer in and advocate of the use of social media as a platform for empowerment and advocacy. For HIV-positive individuals living in social isolation or areas with limited HIV/AIDS community, treatment information and support services, social media can provide a lifeline to reach their optimal health and full potential. I also believe in the benefits of personal storytelling in raising awareness, combating HIV stigma and connecting individuals. Though we travel very different journeys, we are survivors in uncharted territory, united through sharing our personal stories and experiences of living with HIV/AIDS – sometimes struggling, sometimes succeeding. The merger of personal storytelling and use of social media naturally led to the path and launch of http://www.OpenlyPoz.com.

“Our job is to share knowledge with those who have a little less of it, and to learn what we can from those who have a little more.” – Karen Berg

You talk about your “R⁴” mantra in your blog. What do those 4 R’s mean to you and where did they come from?

My story is much more than the daily challenges of living with HIV/AIDS. It is a story of fostering hope and resilience in me and others. It was the positive outcome of that first experience of hitting rock bottom that my 4 R’s have since become my mantra, my guiding force in clearing even the highest hurdle I encounter as I move forward on my journey, and celebrating life each and every day.

R4R⁴ is based on multiplying the four instances of R together. So: R⁴ = rock bottom x recovery x resilience x reinvention. In order for me to move forward in the process, I have to clear the previous hurdle, or R, which in turn strengthens my confidence and determination to ultimately clear the highest hurdles. (Read my full guest blog post “Clearing HIV/AIDS & Life’s Hurdles R⁴ Style” on Josh Robbins’ I’m Still Josh)

On your blog, you make sure to point out that HIV lives with you, not that you live with HIV. Can you speak a little bit as to why this differentiation matters to you?

Simply stated, I practice people-first language. Rather than using labels to define me and my HIV status, I feel it is more appropriate to use language that describes me as a whole person. Therefore, I don’t live with HIV, HIV lives with me. Yes I am HIV-positive, but first I am Rob. My HIV status, much like my gender, age or sexual orientation, does not define me, but is part of my life and part of what made me the person I am today–optimistic, confident and determined.

What kind of impact do you hope to have through your blog both within and outside of the HIV-positive community?

While we have made great huge strides in HIV prevention, care and treatment, stigma continues and accessing treatment, including support, remains difficult for people living with HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (March 2015), approximately 50,000 people become newly infected each year. 9 in 10 new U.S. HIV infections come from people not receiving HIV care, which highlights the importance of getting tested. Stigma and fear keep many from getting tested for HIV.

On my forward journey aging with HIV/AIDS – sometimes struggling, sometimes succeeding – it is my hope that through OpenlyPoz.com I can make a positive community impact by furthering my work advocating for increased awareness, decreased stigma, and the chance eventually to an AIDS-free generation. First and foremost, I will use this platform to connect, support and empower individuals both within and outside of the HIV community through on-going conversations about awareness, the importance of testing and taking full responsibility for one’s own sexual health, open and honest communication about HIV status, reducing stigma, education, the challenges of an aging HIV population, responding to the changing needs of the HIV community, and more.

Whether or not you are directly impacted, we are all affected by HIV/AIDS.

Meet Rob Quinn: BLC Member and New Guest Blogger! (Part 1)

Hi Rob! Great to meet you. Can you tell us a little bit about what you do?

I am a passionate openly gay, HIV-positive activist, blogger and educator. I have been a certified child life specialist for the past twenty nine years. My twenty-one year journey as a person living with HIV/AIDS has evolved from being an unheard voice to a voice for the unheard. Through local and statewide activism, education, outreach, and social media, I am increasing HIV/AIDS awareness and reducing stigma. I am continually seeking additional opportunities to further my work advocating for increased awareness, decreased stigma, and the chance eventually to an AIDS-free generation.

2015 marks my 29th year in the child life profession as a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS). Child life professionals empower children and families to master challenging events related to health care. In 1993, after being diagnosed HIV-positive (after having tested negative six months earlier), I crossed over into a parallel universe, living as the children, youth, and adolescents with whom I worked did. I was suddenly faced with coping, surviving, and then thriving with my own health care challenges while continuing to provide child life care.

As of September 1, 2013 I was appointed to a three-year term on the Statewide Consumer Advisory Board (SWCAB) of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Office of HIV/AIDS. Prior to that, I served on the Board of Trustees at the AIDS Foundation of Western Massachusetts (AFWM). I first became involved with AFWM in 2008 as a recipient of their emergency financial assistance program (EmFAR). I have since received AFWM’s Community Activist Recognition Award, and in 2011 founded Living Positive, Western Massachusetts’ only peer-led support for men living with HIV/AIDS.

Where are you from?

I am a Springfield native. During 1983-86, I lived and worked in Boston while pursing my Masters of Science in Child Life at Wheelock College. During 1986-2001, I lived and worked in NYC/Manhattan for 15 years, relocating back to Springfield in 2001 weeks after 9/11 due to failing health and unhappiness.

When were you diagnosed with HIV? What has your journey been like living with HIV?

Although the journey has not been easy, often grueling at times, today I celebrate all that I am so appreciative of – peace, health, happiness and simple living, as I gratefully age with HIV/AIDS – sometimes struggling, sometimes succeeding. After hitting my rock bottom in 2007, resulting from an HIV diagnosis in 1993, an AIDS diagnosis in 1999, and the need to take an extended medical leave of absence from my child life career in NYC, I have since reinvented myself and in 2012 launched the blog www.OpenlyPoz.com to empower and support my peers who are living positive.

My story is much more than the daily challenges of living with HIV/AIDS. It is a story of fostering hope and resilience in me and others. Some of the hurdles I’ve encountered and cleared include coming out twice (first as gay, and years later as HIV-positive), the loss of my father, encountering HIV/AIDS, depression, addiction, a suicide attempt, my 4 R’s (rock bottom, recovery, resilience, and reinventing myself), aging with HIV/AIDS, and much more.

My continued success and personal growth is a direct result of my readiness, trusted support network (led by my mother Patricia Quinn), stellar health care team, and OCD attitude. No, that’s not Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but rather my Optimistic, Confident, and Determined attitude. My journey back continues to be truly a gift. In my speaking engagements, I frequently share with others that as difficult as it may be to stay on track during life’s hurdles, it’s a lot harder to fall off and try to get back on. I truly believe that we can all overcome and grow from obstacles when we learn to see them differently.

When did you become a member at the BLC?

May 21, 2014

How did you find your way to the BLC?

A peer on the Statewide Consumer Advisory Board (SWCAB) of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Office of HIV/AIDS told me about the BLC.

What has being a part of the BLC meant to you?

Being new to Boston, I need to begin the process of transitioning my healthcare here and building a community and social network. The Boston Living Center (BLC) offers me a welcoming and safe environment (physically and emotionally), social interaction with the area’s HIV/AIDS community and peer support, resources, education through The L.I.F.E. Program, and now giving back though guest blogging.

In closing, I would like extend my sincere gratitude to the BLC with inspirational words from Anthropologist Margaret Mead. She said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” You have become part of my world and have changed my world for the better!