Living Positively – not only is that the name of the group, but it is the way in which they come together every week. Each member of the group is HIV positive, but more than that, they act as a positive force in the HIV community.
Living Positively is a social support group that started three years ago. John Streimikes, Senior Manager of Clinical Services at Lifelong, was part of the team that helped create Living Positively, and since then, he has occasionally been a guest speaker at the group’s meetings.
The original idea was to create a group that was led by clients to fit the wants and needs of those clients. “One of the things that became so important was to get staff out of the room or to only have staff members in the room that were also HIV-positive, so that everyone in the room felt like they had something in common,” John explains.
Although many support groups fizzle out, Living Positively is standing strong, and John gives some of the credit to the subtle ways that Lifelong supports the group: advocating for the most convenient space and time for the group to be hosted, encouraging the agency to provide food so that participants can count on having a free meal at the meeting, and helping the clients to establish a set of expectations for participant behavior.
John has also seen the group support each other through extremely tough times. During one of John’s guest speaker presentations on homelessness, a group member disclosed that he was currently living in his car. “What I saw was a dozen people suddenly turn their faces to him and show honest empathy and respect, and people immediately asked him if he knew about particular resources that could help him,” John says. The group members truly care about each other’s well-being and that contributes to the success Living Positively.
Here are some of the ways Living Positively has impacted its members:
“One thing that the group has brought me is to be more socially active. For a number of years there, I was just kind of withdrawn, so this has helped me to get out and about, and that’s a good thing.” – Anthony
“About two years ago, I was in my apartment and spending most of my time alone and feeling depressed. Then I joined this group, and in that time, I have made more friends here and have had a reason to get out of my apartment and participate in the social activities. This has changed my life immensely and has been a very positive experience.” – Peter
“I am one of the founders of the group and it has been amazing to see how long this has been going on. It has been a really positive experience for me. I always know I can rely on the group being here on Wednesday nights.” – Dan
“I have lived with HIV for 14 years and have been closeted for the last 10 years, but living in the straight community. Then I started coming to this group one year ago, and I developed such a good bond with some supportive men to understand that coming out can happen at any time and at any age, and by being with this group, I have gotten so much more support to be who I am.” – Will
“There are people here that can help and support you, and can understand what you are going through. If you need to talk to somebody, this isn’t something that any of us could have gone through alone and still retained this much health. Most battles you can’t fight alone – you need somebody.” – Kyon
If you are comfortable being openly HIV-positive within the group of Living Positively, then you are welcome to join their meetings. They meet every Wednesday in Capitol Hill. Learn more about Living Positively.