Providing Support for People Living With HIV/AIDS

RWJF support helps the Hyacinth AIDS Foundation inspire patients to develop the strength and courage to turn their lives around, says Hyacinth Senior Director Jerry McCathern.

Thanks to a three-year grant, Hyacinth expanded The Wellness Community at Hyacinth (TWCH) to all of our offices in Paterson, Jersey City, Newark, Plainfield, New Brunswick, and Trenton. TWCH is a highly successful, innovative, patient-active mental health intervention for people living with HIV/AIDS. TWCH includes both group and individual counseling, and has had a significant, positive impact on the lives of thousands of clients since its inception in 2000. In many cases, clients tell us, it literally saved their lives.

Carmen was diagnosed at age 23. The man she trusted and loved lied to her, and the devastating news of her status caused her to lose him and to isolate herself from everyone. She felt there was nothing to live for until she found TWCH. Carmen is estranged from her biological family, but she now has another family that offers the care and support she needs. Attending group helps her to be more social and trust others with information. She says it's comforting to talk to other HIV-positive women because they have so much in common. Now an active volunteer, she says "I'm so thankful to be part of TWCH." She is inspired to stay healthy and take her meds. "I have a whole new outlook on life," Carmen told us.

Jennifer was living with HIV but had not told her daughter. When she first sought services at Hyacinth, they lived in a house with other HIV-positive people, and Jennifer lived in fear that her daughter would find out. After joining TWCH and speaking with other women, she realized she had to tell her daughter. TWCH taught her coping mechanisms, and helped her to disclose her status to her daughter who said, "Mom, I already know you're HIV-positive, and it doesn't matter. I love you just the same." She also joined a healthy relationships intervention, which gave her confidence to tell others. Jennifer said that because of her daughter's support she felt "free" and could go on with her life without the burden of fear and stigma.

Today, because of the NJHI grant, over 200 clients a week attend TWCH. Because of the project's success in medical care retention, Hyacinth gained public funding to sustain the program through grants from Ryan White and the New Jersey Department of Health. TWCH helps clients remain healthy; learn the importance of taking their medications and cope with myriad challenges such as domestic violence, addiction, depression, and issues surrounding nutrition, housing and medical care. Clients create a kinship with other group members and report that their feelings of unwanted aloneness and hopelessness disappear at TWCH.