Supportive Services Highlight
August 08, 2020
SUPPORT SERVICES Highlight: 40Plus Group
Damien Center is not just a place that offers medical care for people living with HIV/AIDS. It offers several support groups, and one is targeted to those who are 40 years of age or older.
The 40Plus group welcomes HIV+ men* seeking social support in coping with aging in the context of HIV. Topics discussed are past trauma, stigma, loss of social networks, making positive changes and how to re-engage life after periods of ill health.
"Attendance in the 40Plus group is not mandatory," says Anthony Pastrick, Linkage to Care specialist at Damien Center. "But several people show up consistently. We meet weekly, and one thing that makes people show up is food," he jokes. "So I try to have pizza or something there."
So the pizza may help a little getting people there, but this is time well spent for the attendees. When asked what the goal of the group is, Anthony said, "We are here to offer empathy and understanding that these men don't gain out in public. Everyone is leading a different life, but there is one thing they have in common." That shared experience is powerful. Several men acquired AIDS decades ago and have lived through the evolution in AIDS treatment, and public opinion. All while dealing with the normal challenges of getting older.
Facilitating the 40Plus group is a highlight of Anthony's work each week. "When I have a group member who recently tested positive for HIV, and they are talking to someone who has lived with HIV for a number of years, I can see a little spark added to their life to learn that they are not going to die. That they can live a healthy life. It makes me feel like I play a part in trying to help them move them to the next chapter of their life. A positive chapter."
Some of the nuances that are discussed in the 40Plus group are important for donors to the Damien Center and other supporters to understand.
One of those nuances is AIDS Survivor Syndrome. "Each person living with HIV has a unique story," says Anthony. "So I am careful how I word things. There seems to be a little more stigma to the word AIDS than HIV and I don't want to offend. I've often thought maybe we should use HIV and not AIDS. But what I didn't realize until I talked to several people who have been living longer with AIDS is that they are proud of that accomplishment. They say things like 'I fought through those letters.' That really helped me understand where they are coming from."
That story highlights how important support groups like 40Plus are. Donor dollars which allow all of the support groups at Damien Center to flourish are a big step to reaching a deeper level of understanding and meeting the needs of the HIV/AIDS community in Indiana.
"I read a shirt once," says Anthony. "It said 'HIV is preventable if taught, and treatable if caught.' It starts with our society and how are you going to stay safe? Donors help us keep you and your family safe."
The 40Plus group meets each Thursday from 11:00am – 12:00pm at Damien Center.
Contact Anthony Pastrick at [email protected] for more information.
*A women's 40Plus group is in the planning stages