JV AmeriCorps member April Long serves as the Activities and Events Coordinator for the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon’s HIV Services. To commemorate World AIDS Day, April shares some reflections on her time so far in the HIV Day Center in Portland, OR.
From the moment I walked into Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon’s HIV Day Center, I knew I had found a new home. There are many elements which contribute to this feeling, but the people are the greatest ones. Both the staff and the clients contribute so much to the space that it transforms into much more than a church basement. As we enter this holiday season, with Thanksgiving, World AIDS Day, and Christmas, it is more evident than ever what the Day Center means to everyone involved. At our Thanksgiving meal, we gave clients the opportunity to announce what they were thankful for. Many reflected on what the Day Center means to them, how much joy and strength they have gathered within its walls and from its community members. This strength allows them to continue their journey living with HIV/AIDS, which is by no means easy.
Most of our clients are in their 40s-60s. Many of them have shared with me their life stories; stories of loss, of family not accepting them, of how their race or religion has impacted them (for better or worse). They are heartbreaking to hear, but they also strengthen my resolve to continue to serve this community as long as I am able. I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity to serve them as the day center’s Activities and Events Coordinator, which can translate to something as simple as a game of cards, a hot breakfast, or teaching the “Thriller” dance for our Halloween party.
World AIDS Day is December 1. It serves as one of the Day Center’s largest day of recognition, as well as a chance for our clients to share their stories with a larger community. Many of 1.2 million people living in the US with HIV are dealing with other issues as well, such as homelessness, mental health struggles, and addiction. We see it all here at the Day Center. With the troubles we still have today, it is good to look back on the past and see just how much progress has occurred. World AIDS Day provides a perfect opportunity to reflect on the history- the stigma and stereotypes of the 80’s that still survive today, the development of so many medicines that finally make it possible to live with HIV/AIDS, and the formation of communities and advocates who are not afraid to speak in honor of those who have passed. My JV AmeriCorps placement here with this community has inspired me towards a lifetime of service. Everything I give to the Day Center is returned threefold every time someone shares their story with me, shares their strength with me. This is a strength I will carry the rest of my life and will pass along to everyone I know. Thank you.