2 min

Reaching out to people with HIV

Support group aims at limiting feelings of isolation

Credit: Karen Rodgers

Connecting, CHAT- ting, laughing – a local AIDS group will use these simple gestures to support HIV-infected people who are experiencing loneliness and isolation from their family and friends.

The new HIV buddy program, aptly named ConneXions, is an emotional and social support system that will see volunteers connect with people living with HIV to chat, go for walks or simply hang out.

Spearheaded by the AIDS group at the Anglican Church of St John the Evangelist, ConneXions aims to give HIV-infected people some personal contact and companionship – things they may be lacking in their lives.

Bradley Hicks, a reverend at St John’s parish who is coordinating the ConneXions program, says the St John’s AIDS group saw a need to reach out to people living with HIV who have lost connections with their family and friends. These personal connections tend to break down either because people with the disease isolate themselves or because family and friends have shunned them.

“I guess in about the last five to 10 years, people with HIV have been living a lot longer – and feeling somewhat more isolated,” says Hicks.

“The only contact some of them have is with their doctor.”

ConneXions aims to change that depressing situation. It will match up an HIV-infected person who wants emotional and social support with a volunteer “buddy.” For three hours a week, the pair will hang out, chat, go on outings or do other social activities.

“It will help to limit their isolation,” Hicks said at an orientation session for the ConneXions program.

Ten volunteers or buddies went through training Jun 20-21, which involved sessions on HIV and AIDS, details of the ConneXions program and information on interpersonal and communication skills. Trainees also got a better sense of the isolation and grief people living with HIV often experience.

Ron Chaplin, a 51-year-old who was diagnosed with HIV in 1985, shared stories with the volunteers, explaining that people infected with the disease tend to shift between feelings of denial, isolation, anger, depression, acceptance and hope.

“The isolation is particularly difficult. People have a natural tendency to recoil from people who are ill,” Chaplin, sitting in the meeting room at St John’s parish, told the volunteers-in-training.

The isolation HIV-infected people experience stems from numerous things, Diana Fox, a counsellor who runs a support group for HIV-infected men, explained in the training session. Often people end up leaving their jobs, and thus losing a sense of self-worth, when the disease takes its toll. On top of that, there’s a loss of autonomy, independence and connections with others.

“The people you will be paired with will likely be dealing with most of these issues,” Fox explained.

Albert Kline, a gay man, is volunteering to be a buddy in the ConneXions program because he too has suffered through isolation – simply because of his sexuality. After knowing that kind of despair, Kline wants to do his part to help others through it.

“I came out three years ago. Because of that I lost a lot of family, and I got to a point of isolation,” Kline said.

“I’m actually looking forward to this, to being something positive in someone’s life,” he said following his training. “There is a need for this. People need to have company.”


Program Coordinator: Bradley Hicks,

Anglican Church of St John the Evangelist