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Project assists deaf people living with HIV/AIDS

A UMNS Report
By Judith Santiago*

Nov. 29, 2007

Once a year, a small group from the community of the deaf meets with HIV/AIDS survivors to share their personal journeys.

The United Methodist Deaf Shalom Zone, a ministry of Christ United Methodist Church in Baltimore, provides sign language interpreters so the deaf people with HIV/AIDS can have communication access at the Quality of Life Retreat they attend, which is held in Maryland or the Washington area.

"HIV/AIDS cases are four times higher in the deaf community than in the hearing community," said Carol Stevens, the shalom zone coordinator.

Quality of Life Retreats, an independent ministry, is open to anyone and has four retreats each year designed to empower participants with life strategies that help them live with HIV/AIDS. The program received additional funding this year from the United Methodist Baltimore-Washington Annual (regional) Conference and the denomination’s Board of Global Ministries.

"My experience at the Quality of Life Retreat was so great. It helped me to find myself, my inner place, my spiritual home, my peace, my purpose in life," signed the Rev. Harry Woosley Jr., leader of the deaf AIDS community in Baltimore. "I want to help others to find life like I have."

Since the retreat, Woosley has been educating three high-risk groups about AIDS: deaf-blind people, a group of deaf inner-city young people and deaf people living in group homes.

Each retreat aims to offer a safe, loving environment in which participants can be themselves, free of fears and inhibitions, and can openly discuss their deepest concerns and challenges about living with HIV/AIDS. Participants can interact with other HIV-positive people and learn strategies for long-term survival.

Agencies that provide services to hearing individuals are often inaccessible to the deaf, so The Deaf Shalom Zone includes case management services for deaf people living with HIV/AIDS. Case managers assist people who have contracted the disease but have no health insurance, medical care, medication or financial support and help them gain independence.

*Santiago is a staff member with the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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