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05/2008 RVCC's HIV/AIDS Project

HIV/AIDS Project

The River Valley Counseling Center HIV/AIDS Project has been in existence since 1991 and serves the greater Springfield and Holyoke areas.  Its mission is to support those infected by HIV/AIDS and promote community awareness of the issues surrounding HIV/AIDS.

Under the leadership of Marianne Polmatier, Program Director, and Javier Cruz, Assistant Program Director, the Project provides a variety of different services and programs, including information and referral services; bi-lingual/bi-cultural case management; medication adherence and life skills programs; peer-led support groups; housing supports; a very active Consumer Advisory Board; and membership to the Between Family and Friends Center (BFFC).

Peer Support:  The Consumer Advisor Board (CAB) is a key component of RVCC’s HIV/AIDS Project and has been in existence since the program’s inception.  The role of the CAB is to support the involvement of people living with HIV in the planning, delivery and assessment of HIV/AIDS related services within RVCC.  The development of the peer program is among the CAB’s many accomplishments.  Peers provide support to clients who are affected with HIV and act as role models who reduce stigma and isolation, which are often barriers to receiving services.  Utilizing peers increases client engagement and retention while enhancing the cultural competency of the program.

The Between Family and Friends Center (BFFC) is a welcoming drop-in center in Springfield that provides a variety of activities to its over 300 members. The Center allows consumers and their family and friends to use a computer lab; access the video and book libraries; participate in art therapy, prepare breakfast and snacks throughout the day; enjoy healthy congregate lunch meals every Wednesday and Friday at noon; and attend the overwhelmingly popular support groups.

On a recent Wednesday morning, Pacesetter dropped in on BFFC to talk to some members about their experience at the Center.  Upon entering, we’re greeted by the laughter and friendly mayhem of twelve members eating their breakfast.  They’re happy to take a break from their meal to share with us what BFFC means to them.

Kevin states, BFFC is a “friendly place where I can interact with others by giving and receiving support.”  Another member notes that the Center’s membership is diverse in culture, race, sexual preference and language.  “We’re all struggling with the same illness, and this place gives us a safe place to come and share with others,” states a new member.  Najmah chimes in adding, “I love everything about coming here.  Robyn helps me a lot with my computer skills and math.”  Peter adds, “These people have become my best friends.” 

A new member who has moved to the area from Worcester says, “I looked around to see where I could go. . . .  I actually learned about the Center from a posting I placed on Craig’s List.  I love it here.  I enjoy talking with everyone.  You learn so much about what’s new - like medicine, other services, educational experiences like conferences and events that are going on.”  Ray has been coming to BFFC since 1997 and has been HIV+ for over 22 years.  “I’m here every Tuesday from 10:30 to 11:30 doing art therapy.  Right now I’m painting the Center’s banner for the annual picnic at Forest Park.  Next we’re gonna paint flower pots to plant herbs and then we’ll talk about using them.  We all need to stay healthy and eat better.”

Jose Rivera prepares the congregate meals.  “I’ve been doing this for over six years.  I started coming here with my girlfriend after I lost both my niece and nephew to full blown AIDS.  I felt like I should do a little more…because of them.  The Center offered food, but it wasn’t that great.  I sold my business and began volunteering.  After a while the CAB suggested that I get a salary.  The rest is history.  I love doing this.”

For more information about River Valley Counseling Center’s HIV/AIDS Project, please call 737-2437.