Today I write this with a heavy heart.
When I was diagnosed HIV Positive in March of 2013 I very quickly learned how little services there are available to HIV Positive women. The nice woman at Planned Parenthood had very little information for me but she did hand me a short list of organizations in San Diego that provide services to HIV Positive people. There was only one place on that list that catered to women, that place was Christie’s Place. I’ll never forget that day as long as I live. It was a Saturday and unfortunately all of the organizations were closed for the weekend. I called every phone number on that list and I left a message on every voicemail praying for a call back. I was so very, very scared. You see, I had made the terrible mistake of googling HIV and the first thing that popped up was a photo of David Kirby. He was lying in a hospital bed, his body nothing but a skeleton. He was taking his last breaths. I’ve never been so scared in my life. I just knew I was going to die. It was the longest most horrible weekend of my entire life.
First thing Monday morning the calls came pouring in. The organizations were finally returning my calls. One after another they told me that they only cater to the LGBT community and that there was nothing they could do for me. I think the third call that came in was from Christie’s Place. It was the sweet voice of a woman named Jay telling me that she would help me. She would help me figure it all out and everything was going to be just fine. She explained to me that she was a Peer Navigator and although at the time I had no idea what that title meant I very quickly made an appointment to meet with her, I had so many questions. That same day I went to meet with Jay. I was an emotional wreck. I remember pulling up to the address she had given me and thinking that it looked like a house. That was oddly comforting, I guess I expected a building or someplace much more clinical looking. Anyways, I went inside and told the lady at the front desk I was there to meet with Jay and then I took a seat in the lobby. Actually, it was more like a living room, complete with couches and carpet and there were even pictures of people with their families on the wall. Jay walked around the corner and introduced herself then she asked if she could give me a hug. I’m not typically the hug a stranger type of person but it was the best hug I had ever had in my life. I remember thinking this woman knows I have HIV and she still wants to hug me? I needed that hug more than I have ever needed a hug. I think in some ways that hug may have saved my life.
That day I met with Jay and Heather (both Peer Navigators) and together they explained to me what having HIV meant and that I was going to live! I wasn’t going to die after all! They both told me that they too were HIV Positive and they were doing just fine. They explained to me that I would just need to take medication and I too could live a healthy, fulfilling life. I remember looking at them and thinking they both looked so “normal” nothing at all like the man in the photograph. Jay went on to help me figure out the healthcare part of things. She even helped me find a doctor, schedule my first appointment and went to my first doctor’s appointment with me! From that moment on they were both, just, always there for me. Anytime I had a question or needed a hug I could call Jay or Heather and they would just… be there. That is when I finally figured out what a Peer Navigator truly was and how amazing and instrumental they are to a person newly diagnosed HIV Positive.
I grew very familiar with Christie’s Place. I went there to get help with my health insurance and ADAP enrollment. For a while I went there for therapy and when I was ready I started attending the Tuesday night support group. I was so scared and nervous to go to that support group alone I asked Jay to come with me and she did! She sat right next to me and I felt so relieved and thankful to have her there. I still go to the Tuesday night support group, every Tuesday actually. Christie’s Place became my second family. It was a place that I felt safe and I felt like I belonged there. When you are newly diagnosed it is very hard to feel like you belong somewhere, it is also very important to feel like you belong somewhere.
It wasn’t long after my diagnosis that I knew I wanted to do something to help people with HIV. I developed a passion in my soul to help people. I didn’t know how I was going to do it but I knew that I was going to do something, anything I could to help. I started my website, wearehiv.org and that fulfilled some of my desire. I even helped a few people get into care and helped others to find places that provide HIV testing. I remember the first time I helped a woman all the way across the country get linked to an organization much like Christie’s Place. When that woman emailed me to let me know that she had been to the doctor and got her meds I felt a feeling I didn’t even know I could feel. Knowing that YOU helped someone save their life is monumental. Still I wanted to do more…
Four months ago Heather sent me an email and told me there was a Peer Navigator position available at Christie’s Place. I knew at that very moment I wanted that job and I would do any and everything in my power to get it! Working for a nonprofit organization does not pay much monetarily but it is so very rewarding! I often say helping people is better than any paycheck you could ever receive. After a lengthy interview process I got the job! I was over the moon with excitement. I would finally get to comfort other people at quite possibly the worst time of their lives and I couldn’t have been happier. Plus, I would get to give out hugs to people that really needed hugs, and to me that was amazing! I’ve been here at Christie’s Place for three months now and I have loved every second of it. I have met amazing, inspiring women that I now could not imagine my life without. I have learned so much about HIV and the people living with HIV. I have been deeply touched in a way that I had never expected. The passion in my soul had finally been met. Until, today…
Today, I and another Peer Navigator were informed that a large chunk of the funding for Christie’s Place was lost and we will have to go part-time starting March 15th and very possibly lose our positions altogether because they can no longer afford to pay us. That is why I am writing this today. Christie’s Place is an amazing resource for women living with HIV. If they do not have the funds needed for the work they do then ultimately it will be the women that need the resources Christie’s Place provides the most, that will lose out. So I am asking for your help. If you can help please do so! Being a woman living with HIV is hard and without Christie’s Place it will be so much harder. I honestly cannot imagine where I would be today without Christie’s Place and Jay’s amazing hugs!