The impact of an internship- Theresa Powers shares her experience and learnings from interning at the Boston Living Center

Around the globe, there are approximately 40 million people currently living with HIV, and an estimated 25 million have died from the disease. In the United States, approximately 1 million people are currently living with HIV. HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, which is a retrovirus that kills

Theresa Powers- Lesley Student and BLC volunteer

and damages cells of the body’s immune system. AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and is caused by HIV when the virus has destroyed so much of the body’s defenses that the immune-system cell-count drops to a critical level or life-threatening cancers or infections develop (Nettleman). HIV is spread primarily through unprotected sex and intravenous drug use (sharing needles), but can also be passed from mother to child through pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding (The Body, 2011). Some important things to keep in mind when thinking about HIV are the stigma in the community, treatment/side effects, and working with clients who are HIV+. There are challenges to all three of these aspects, as well as rewards. The following focuses on these characteristics as pertaining to the HIV/AIDS community.

The Stigmatized Population, Why?

            There is still a stigma surrounding HIV, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s because the virus first came to light in the 1980s when gay men were dying from a mysterious illness. Maybe it’s because people think they can get “infected” by simply just being in the presence of someone who is HIV+ (The Body, 2011). Maybe it’s because the general population is uneducated, which leads them to be scared of the virus. For whatever reason, the stigma is un-warranted. People who are HIV+ or have progressed to the stage of AIDS have a severe stigma thrown onto them from society, and this is a challenge. On top of feeling alone and maybe confused, the negative societal stigma adds a sense of rejection from the world.

            In talking with my supervisor, she informed me that much of the stigma towards the HIV+ population comes from urban legends about it. A friend of mine even told me of a story he heard, which was completely over the top and there was absolutely no way that it could have happened; it was just used to make people who are HIV+ or have AIDS look like terrible people. Folktales about the spread of HIV include things such as “AIDS Mary” and AIDS by “stealth injection.” AIDS Mary is sort of like a cautionary tale on the dangers of unprotected, careless sex. The story goes as follows: “After a night of casual sex with a woman he doesn’t know… a man wakes up the next morning to find the words ‘Welcome to the world of AIDS’ scrawled in lipstick across his bathroom mirror” (Emery). Supposedly this woman was purposefully sleeping around to spread the disease to anyone she could seduce after she had contracted it from a former lover. Clearly, this story is a reflection “of the fear and ignorance that surrounded the epidemic in the mid-1980s” (Emery). AIDS by “stealth injection,” much like the story told to me by a friend, is just like it sounds. Claims in these legends have stated that women have gone out clubbing, or sat down at the movie theater, and been pricked by a needle. Attached to the needle is a note that states, “Welcome to the world of AIDS.” These legends are not only untrue, but they are hurtful to the population. There are facts to go against these urban legends, yet people are hanging onto them, creating a stigma that people who are HIV+ will infect everyone in their path (Emery). This is simply ridiculous and ignorant. Because of the stigma placed on this population, it is hard for them to live a normal life. This stigma gives a sense of rejection from the rest of the world, and it has also been considered an obstacle in organizing programs in response to the epidemic.

            A Sociologist named Erving Goffman defined stigma as “an attribute that is deeply discrediting,” and that it brings down a normal person to a “tainted, discounted one,” and that society will stigmatize others based on deviance from what is normal. This leads for the stigmatized individuals to view themselves as unwanted and shunned (as cited by Coates et al). The formation of stigma is not only based in one’s mind, but also in society. Stigmatized groups are disadvantaged in many ways, including income, education, housing status, medical treatment and health. Stigma is most easily described in stages put together by Bruce Link and Jo Phelan, stating:

            1) Individuals distinguish and label human differences, 2) dominant cultural     beliefs link labeled persons to undesirable characteristics (or negative   stereotypes), 3) labeled persons are placed in distinct categories to accomplish        some degree of separation of “us” from “them,” and 4) labeled persons experience status loss and discrimination that lead to unequal outcomes  (as cited by Coates             et al).

Here, the reasons for stigma are explained, yet is anyone doing anything about it? There are a number of programs in the country which support people who are HIV+, allowing them safe havens and small communities. The Boston Living Center is one of them. Interestingly enough, stigma is what is holding back the organization of programs just like the BLC, but we need programs like the BLC to reduce the stigma.


Medication and Treatment

            Continuing medication through terrible side-effects is hard all alone, but the support of a group in the same position makes it easier. Group counseling is so important both psychologically and medically, because it helps with mental and physical health. Along with upkeep of medication to take, it is important to also be a part of a group therapy or one-on-one therapy. Becoming a Helper by Corey and Corey touches briefly upon the benefits of group therapy. “Groups provide a sense of community, which can be the antidote to the impersonal culture in which many individuals live” (Corey and Corey 334). This is true especially for HIV+ groups, as discussed before in regards to stigma. It’s much easier for people who have HIV to relate to others who are also going through the same things, hence the importance of groups. There is also a sense of safety and understanding due to the fact that everyone is going through the same thing. “Groups offer a forum in which members reveal their confusion, anger, helplessness, guilt, resentment, depression and anxiety… members are able to see the similarity of human struggles” (Corey & Corey 334). Working in a group setting of clients who are all HIV+ can bring up many of the similar issues that these people feel, especially that they are looked at differently by the general population. It’s important for them to talk about these feelings and have others who can relate to them, as well as to help them cope in their everyday life.

            Studies have been done involving HIV+ adolescents and peer-group therapy. “Adolescents who have experienced a long history of HIV infection accumulate a number of potential difficulties with peers, with self-image, sexuality, future academic and occupational plans, and planning for life as an adult…” (Blanche et al). Because of these potential issues with adolescents who are HIV+, a study was done about the effects of peer-group therapy. The conclusion came down to say that “peer support group had a beneficial effect on the adolescents’ acceptance and perceptions of their HIV infection… improvement in well-being could have a positive influence on biological variables” (Blanche et al).  The interesting part about this is that peer-group therapy may have an effect on the biological factors of HIV, like how medical treatment affects the body.  While the clients are going through therapy, their overall well-being is being brought up to a higher level, which in turn affects their biology. Holistically, this makes a lot of sense and is very important to chronic illnesses. It is clear that peer-support groups are helpful for people living with HIV, because it offers them an outlet and some understanding into their lives that usually don’t have those things.

Counseling Clients

            In working with clients who are HIV+, it is important as a therapist to consider things such as confidentiality, ethics and cultural competency. All of these aspects of a helper can relate to working with clients who are HIV+, and they are important to counseling this population. It is hard to find a therapist who is educated in the culture of HIV/AIDS, and who understands what the client is going through. All of these aspects of therapy should be kept in mind with any population, but it is especially important in working with clients who are HIV+. There are some regular themes that have come up in HIV/AIDS counseling which include secrecy, complexity and relationships/interaction. Secrecy relates to the question of who the client should disclose his or her status to, and how the therapist can guide the client on that. Complexity means that both socially and biomedically, many people are involved with the client, which can lead to more problems or conflicts. Relationships/interaction refers to the fact that HIV/AIDS can create a relationship problem due to the social stigma of the illness and fear of contracting the illness. (Bor & Miller). As a therapist, there are many basics to consider in counseling a client with HIV/AIDS. These basics are generally the basics of counseling which can be applied to working with any population, but some of these concepts are especially important in counseling people who are HIV+. Confidentiality and ethics are closely related. Clients are expected to trust their therapists, but ethically, there are things that therapists need to expose to authorities. In Becoming a Helper, Corey & Corey use an example of working with a client who is HIV+. “As a helper, you may need to balance your client’s right to confidentiality against warning a third party ho may be at risk…” (Corey & Corey 239). There is a balance between confidentiality and ethics in regards to working with clients who are HIV+. “… Practitioners who work with HIV-positive clients will continue to wrestle with the ethical issues in deciding on a course of action with their clients” (Corey & Corey 239). It’s a hard balance, but apparently confidentiality with the client holds more than ethics do. The client must trust the therapist, so in this type of case, the therapist must keep confidentiality. Other therapists that Corey & Corey work with claim that “there are many alternative to breaking confidentiality and warning a third party” (Corey & Corey 240). Imaginably, this would mean the client telling the third party themselves.

            Cultural competency is another concept that is important for those in the helping profession to understand. In regards to HIV, this is extremely important because it involves knowing different cultural beliefs. In HIV prevention and education, it’s difficult to get through to people who culturally do not talk about sex and the body in the same way that Americans do. “These beliefs and attitudes make our job very hard… you can’t talk about HIV without talking about sex, certain body parts, certain activities and certain truths that many people would prefer [not to hear]” (Lechky). In this Canadian article, it states that people “reason [that] they’re not white, not gay, and don’t use drugs, and therefore are not at risk. There’s still a lot of stigmatization and stereotyping around who gets infected” (Lechky). Therefore, it’s important to look at all cultures and the different ways in which they can be educated, regardless of their beliefs. There is a huge emphasis on clients seeing the therapist as a real human being, and building a trusting relationship between the two. It is important for the therapist to be “very open-minded, nonjudgmental, and willing to educate themselves on the issues” (Lechky). There is clearly a huge importance in knowing and really understanding what the client is going through, and if the therapist is not actually going through the same, education about the issues is of great importance in understanding and empathizing.

Self-Reflection & My Future as a Helper

            I absolutely love being at the Boston Living Center. It has been an integral part in my experience at Lesley, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I was so skeptical about going in there and working with clients; I simply didn’t have any idea what to expect from the HIV/AIDS population. I am now fully open-minded and loving towards everyone, no matter their situation. Working with this population has opened my heart to so many different opportunities in the helping profession. Honestly, I can’t see myself leaving the BLC. This is such a spectacular community center for people living with this illness, and I know that it has helped so many. One of the members, told me that he was in a really terrible place (mentally, physically, and environmentally) before he came to the BLC. Now, he’s doing so much better and he wants it to stay that way. He revealed to me that being at the Boston Living Center really made him want to live with AIDS, not die from it.  The Center has been a turnaround place for so many people, and I am so happy to be a part of it. The members have been recognizing me, and it just warms my heart to know that I can make a difference to them. Simply smiling at them brightens their days, and some will open up to me and tell me stories. I love that I have already made such an impact just by being my positive, smiley self. I know that I am supposed to terminate at the BLC, and I will as an intern, but there is no way I can stay away from this place as a volunteer. I have been sucked in and there is no way for me to get out. I am making time next semester to make a point to go to the Center at least once a week, that’s how much of an impact it has had on me. I am so incredibly grateful for being given this opportunity to make a difference.

            As for future internships, I am sticking with the helping professions. A recent interest of mine has become veterans, specifically those with PTSD. I would like to find an internship at an organization for veterans, and I would like the organization to have a population of women. Maybe there is a place for women veterans that I can do something at. This new interested was discovered when I was in my Women, Culture and Society class with Amy Rutsein-Riley, and we had a guest speaker who spewed off all of these statistics about the lack of help that veterans receive when they come back from serving. I was especially interested by the fact that approximately 70% of women report sexual assault during their service. These numbers were appalling to me, and I can imagine that these women aren’t necessarily getting the help that they do need to recover from these traumatizing experiences. The same goes for veterans in general, because I don’t necessarily think that they are getting the correct counseling necessary for their PTSD. I would especially like to work with wounded soldiers in getting back on their feet and back into the social world of the United States. Many end up homeless and hungry because there are no programs that show them how to live again. This is research that I will be conducting over winter break.

            As a whole, the Boston Living Center has been a place of sanity for me over the past semester.  I couldn’t imagine not loving waking up and going to my internship two days a week as some people do. I absolutely love the people and the environment, and I especially love that everyone who works there is there to help. If I would have to say one thing I want to do in the future, just one, it would have to be helping people. It’s my self-care, it’s my happiness and soon, it will be my career.


An Outside Perspective: My Service Learning Project By: Abby Thompson

Abigail- Emerson Student

   When I was first assigned a service-learning project for my Interpersonal Communications class, I was skeptical. When was this going to fit in to my schedule? Wouldn’t it require energy that I should have been spending on organizations or my other classes? Truth is, I was being incredibly narrow minded. I failed to see the ways in which this could open my mind, expand my horizons and push me into the very thing I thought I feared: something new. This all changed, however, during my first visit to the Boston Living Center.

  The instant you enter the BLC, you can’t help but feel wanted. You can’t help but notice how friendly everyone (and I mean everyone) truly is, and how infectious their hospitality is. I was greeted with nothing but openness and positivity, everyone was happy to see me.

  Walking into Juan’s Free Expression class, held on Fridays, was like leaving my world for a little while. I wasn’t being consumed by my own thoughts any longer. I didn’t think about how busy or stressed or tired I was. Point is, I forgot about me in general. Abby, the busy college student (admittedly blessed with financial and physical comfort) was pushed to the very back of my mind. My “problems” weren’t as important. My attention was focused on these fascinating new people, who were enduring pain I couldn’t relate to. These individuals, coming from all walks of life, came together here; working side by side to better themselves and their well beings.

Admittedly, I was nervous when beginning the project. I was rather unfamiliar with the psychological and physical afflictions associated with HIV/AIDS, and this topic was one I rarely discussed or encountered in daily life. My greatest fear was to appear ignorant or ill informed, and so I did my research. However, the amount of friendly and positive disclosure the member’s shared- about their personal lives, their health and their happiness made me realize just how open everyone was. They were quick to offer advice, ideas and support when a fellow member needed it most.

I entered my service-learning project completely blind to the effect it would have on me as a person. I didn’t realize that I would walk home after each class, thinking about the lives of the new people I’d met, thinking about their friendly dispositions and mostly; thinking about their strength.

This opportunity gave me something I will never forget or take for granted again: a new perspective. The Boston Living Center, essentially, gave me a great deal of hope. I gained a few new heroes in my cohorts, and saw, for the first time in my life, a group of diverse people joining forces and truly connecting. They shared triumphs and encouraged one another through setbacks. I won’t ever forget the Boston Living Center for exposing me to wonderful, real people, with solid determination to reach their full potentials and live lives they truly loved.

A step in the right direction…HIV vaccine research

Rachel Corrado- Boston University student and BLC Volunteer

As a health science student at Boston University, I am always excited when the lectures in my classes relate to the topics I hear about in the BLC. Lately, I was assigned to read an article dealing with new progress made in developing a possible vaccine for HIV. Researchers at Oxford University have recently discovered aspects of the virus’ protective structure that may actually make it vulnerable.

At its most basic level, HIV is a bundle of proteins and carbohydrates. While most attempts at vaccine development have been focusing on the proteins, this method has so far been unsuccessful. HIV always seems to be one step ahead of the body’s immune system, mutating and shifting its proteins so that developing an effective antibody is extremely difficult. However, Dunlop et. al. have made some interesting discoveries by taking a closer look at the carbohydrate portion of the structure.

“Most of the antigenic surface of HIV is covered by carbohydrates,” says Dr. Christopher Scanlan, one of the researchers involved in the project. “It’s often called the glycan shield. The virus needs to be continually evading the immune system, and this shield is perhaps the most effective strategy.”

This “glycan shield” acts as a sort of cloaking device as the virus makes its way through the body, hiding it from the immune system. Normally, it is one of HIV’s primary means of protecting itself, but the scientists think they may have discovered a flaw in this armor that they might be able to turn against the virus. The structure is unique in that the surface carbohydrates are packed so closely together, and while this makes the defense mechanism effective, it also prevents the typical modification that would normally occur in other viruses. In other words, the researchers have found a stable portion of HIV for the body’s immune system to recognize and latch onto. Furthermore, they discovered that certain carbohydrates that coat the outside of yeast cells are remarkably similar to the stable carbohydrates on the outside of HIV. If the researchers can modify the yeast carbohydrates to look more like the ones on HIV, they may be able to create a safe and effective vaccine.

Though it may just be because I am a biology nerd, I love it when I can learn about all the mechanics of the human body and how it interacts with the diseases to which it is exposed. It’s even better when I can learn about something like this, which may be a step in the right direction for finally developing a tool to fight this dangerous and adaptive virus.


“Polysaccharide mimicry of the epitope of the broadly neutralizing anti-HIV antibody, 2G12, induces enhanced antibody responses to self oligomannose glycans.” Dunlop, D.C. et. al. Glycobiology 2010.

The BLC would like to thank Rachel Corrado for her contribution to our blog and her continued service to the HIV community.

A visit to Healing Our Community Collaborative (HOCC)

Healing Our Community Collaborative (HOCC) 

On October 18th the Community Health Intern, Amanda Schulte, and Nutrition Works Coordinator, Amber Hansen, attended the “Healing Our Community Collaborative” monthly meeting at the Old South Church at 645 Boylston Street with some of the BLC’s female  members. The topic of discussion was Breast Cancer and the importance of early detection and yearly mammograms for women over the age of 40.

The Healing Our Community Collaborative, more commonly known as HOCC, is a non-profit grassroots organization for women infected with, affected by, or at risk for HIV/AIDS.  HOCC was founded in 1997 by a small group of women who realized there was a deficiency in the support groups and services available specifically for women with HIV/AIDS.  These women decided to act upon their dissatisfaction and created the nurse-led and peer-driven community for women that exists today.  For the past 13 years, HOCC has been educating and empowering women by closing the disparity in gender specific HIV/AIDS programming. 

Every month HOCC gathers for a meeting over lunch at the Old South Church at Copley Square to discuss issues important to the health of women with HIV or AIDS.  

This month the discussion focused on breast cancer.  A guest lecturer with an expertise in cancer came to the meeting and delivered a wide ranging presentation on the demographics of breast cancer, breast cancer prevention, early breast cancer detection, and the importance of yearly mammograms for women over the age of 40. 

A startling fact that was presented and further discussed by the women at the meeting was the disparity of breast cancer mortality rates among African American women compared to white women.  This shocked many of the women in attendance because the majority of women with breast cancer are white; however, there are more deaths due to breast cancer among African American women.  The cause of this discrepancy, according to the presenter, is that white women tend to catch tumors earlier in the course of the cancer than African American women.  This could be due to greater accessibility of mammograms and other early detection services for white women than African American women.  There are greater chances of survival of breast cancer when it is detected in the beginning stages because effective treatments can be used to slow the growth before the cancer can spread to other areas of the body.

Self-breast examinations and yearly mammograms are important tools for catching cancer in early stages.  Mammograms are can be scheduled by an individual without the need of a doctor’s prescription.  During the meeting, many women voiced concern and fear of mammograms.  Some were afraid mammograms are too painful or expensive, while others feared the results the exam might report.  Ultimately, every woman at the meeting over the age of 40 who had never before had a mammogram vowed to schedule an appointment within the next six months.  The women agreed the potentially life saving benefits of this exam outweighed their other fears. 

One HOCC member gave her personal story of her battle with breast cancer and encouraged all the women present to take action early and to take control of their bodies.  Taking preventative measures against breast cancer can be a very empowering action for women who may otherwise feel like their bodies too often control them.  In addition to early testing for breast cancer, other measures to prevent the start of cancer were emphasized such as weight control through diet and exercise, smoking cessation, and limited consumption of alcohol.

 For women who are interested in finding a location to schedule a mammogram: A good resource is the Women’s Health Network in Boston.

 “The Women’s Health Network (WHN) is a program of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. WHN provides free breast and cervical cancer screening, diagnostic services, and health education to low income, uninsured or underinsured women. These services are provided at local health centers, hospitals, and community agencies throughout Massachusetts.”-

Contact Information

Women’s Health Network
Department of Public Health
250 Washington Street, 4th Floor
Boston, MA 02108-4619
Information and Referral: (877) 414-4447 | (617) 624-5406
Languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese
TTY: (617) 624-5992 |  Fax: (617) 624-5505
Web Site:

Blog authored by: Amanda Schulte, Boston Living Center Intern

Hue Gioi-Meditation Class Volunteer

Recently, Volunteer Coordinator for the BLC, Lisa Brown, sat down to interview Hue Gioi, a practicing Buddhist monk about his volunteer experience at the Boston Living Center.  Hue Gioi has been offering meditation classes at the BLC on Tuesday afternoons for the past few weeks.

Tell me a bit about your choice to become ordained as a monk…

I was inspired by my sister.  She had a little bit of a wild side, and after college she moved to Hawaii.  She had this long beautiful blond hair, and when she came back she had shaved her head.  She was really different, she was centered and strong and she had been practicing meditation.  I was about 16 at the time, and it had a big effect on me.  I used meditation for about six years to support my acting, before and during college.  I wanted to be an actor because I was interested in people.  While acting and meditating I became more and more interested and just before I was going to head to LA to pursue my acting career, I decided to go on a retreat to find out who I was.  I had met a monk who embodied what I had been studying and practicing.  I was going to be on my retreat for three months and that turned to six months, and I realized it takes a lifetime.  I found this life very fulfilling and decided in about six months that I wanted to become ordained.  I’ve been a practicing monk for almost six years now.

Why did you choose to offer your skills to the BLC?

I had wanted to volunteer, and as a child I had been sick a lot and in the hospital repeatedly with illnesses, being ill had been a big part of my life.  While I was in Burma I contracted typhoid in the jungle and had to be rushed to the hospital alone from the monastery.  There had been a cyclone and the hospital was very rustic and had no windows, allowing in rain and flies.  Food was not provided by the hospital; a monk had come to stay with me and slept on the floor.  However, strangers offered their help to me bringing food, some ladies came by to sing to me and rub my feet. I also helped myself by meditating, it’s a great way to help become calm and it’s an easily learned skill. I promised myself to help others in similar situations. 

 How long have you been practicing and teaching meditation?

I’ve been practicing for about Four years and teaching for about two years.

 Why is meditation beneficial for someone living with HIV? (also see video

Well putting aside the fact that someone who has HIV; meditation can be helpful for anybody who is under any stress. It helps you to be able to center yourself, to come back to yourself, and to calm down in many kinds of difficult situations.  Specifically with people with HIV or sickness- any other illnesses…Meditation has been shown in different studies recently to boost the immune system, and to elevate your mood, and I think these are two factors that play a really important role, not just…you know, in keeping somebody healthy but in somebody’s quality of life. And I think that’s what I’m interested in helping…because I can’t do it, I can’t meditate for somebody else, but helping others to kind of help themselves and enriching their quality of life.

What do you enjoy most about working with the membership of the BLC?

 The overall support and care and appreciation within the staff- and members are also appreciative, and there is an earnest…honesty of trying something new and different.  There is a mutual respect throughout the center- everyone helps everyone- teacher, student, staff and guests.

Anything else you want people to know about Buddhism or Meditation?

If there is one thing I want people to know it’s that- no matter race, or religion, or beliefs, you can practice meditation to deepen your religion or your knowledge of self.

Hue Gioi Volunteer Buddhist meditation teacher