World AIDS Day
- By: Candace McKibben
When I moved from Nashville, Tennessee to Tallahassee, Florida in the summer of 1990, I hoped to find an opportunity in ministry and could not have been more blessed than when Saint Paul’s United Methodist Church allowed me to serve their congregation as the Director of Christian Education and Singles’ Pastor. Besides the rich friendships that I formed in that dear congregation, I value what I learned from this church about the importance of ministries beyond the walls of the church. They were on the forefront at the time of both the coming Alzheimer’s caregiving support opportunities, forming the Alzheimer’s Project, and the World AIDS epidemic, as early supporters of the Canopy Connection (faith support) of Big Bend Cares.
Many in our community have benefitted from the wonderful support of the Alzheimer’s Project, Inc. in caring for their loved ones with Alzheimer’s and other related dementias. From excellent training for persons who are caregivers, to support groups in many areas throughout the Big Bend, to valuable resources and expert consultation, the Alzheimer’s Project has made life much better for persons living with dementia and those who care for them in our area.
Big Bend Cares has also expanded in ways that are remarkable. Their facility on south Monroe Street is state of the art and they remain committed to education, treatment and support of those infected and affected by HIV/AIDs in our eight county area of the Big Bend. Every year those congregations and groups that are willing, are invited to support families that need assistance in making holiday dreams come true for children who not only know scarcity of material goods but the weight of having an adult in the family living with HIV/AIDS. Called “Holiday Angels,” my congregations at Saint Paul’s, at East Hill Baptist and now at Tallahassee Fellowship, have supported this outreach of love. Last year, through community efforts, Holiday Angels supported 308 children in our Big Bend community. The Director of Support Services and this program, Kathryn Bachman, as a young girl used to help her mother gather gifts for this ministry at East Hill Baptist.
For many years, some of the interfaith ministers in this community hosted a “World AIDS Day Service.” It was always a lovely evening of support and encouragement for those living with HIV/AIDS and those who love them as well as awareness of the disease. But as the years have worn on, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has lost its visibility. With better treatment options and longer life spans, it seems the World AIDS Day Service has fallen off our local faith community radar. While grateful for the progress that has been made in prevention and treatment, I hope we can be more mindful of the toll that this disease continues to take on people worldwide, and as people of faith and goodwill, continue to seek ways to help.
In 1988, the World Health Organization declared December 1 as World AIDS Day. Rather than a holiday or celebration, it is a global observance. In the past year, one million people died from HIV/AIDS globally and approximately 37.5 million people across the globe now live with HIV/AIDS. The highest concentration of HIV/AIDS is in Africa, where most of the 3.2 million children living with HIV/AIDS live. Treatment advances make it possible to reduce transmission rates from an infected mother to her child down to 2%, but getting the treatment to these mothers is another story.
According to statistics gathered from Big Bend Cares, there were 864 HIV/AIDS related deaths in Florida in 2016 and 4,972 new diagnoses in the state. HIV infection rates are higher in Leon and Gadsden counties than in most other counties in north Florida. There was an uptick in new diagnoses in Leon in 2015, suggesting that there is still reason to remember World AIDS Day and its goal of awareness and education. In the interfaith World AIDS Day Service held in our community in 2007, we focused on the lyrics of a lovely song from the whimsical movie, “Curious George.” Titled, “With My Own Two Hands,” the song speaks to the empowerment of the helper and “the helpee” in making the world a better place. We used the song as a commission to all present – those infected with HIV/AIDS, those affected by HIV/AIDS, and those whose hearts are moved to compassion for persons with the disease or lost to the disease- to make the world a kinder, brighter, and safer place with our own two hands. And that is still the hope and prayer of World AIDS Day. Whether we fold our two hands in prayer or offer them in help, may we find meaningful ways to remember World AIDS Day on December 1 and beyond.