Before visiting the Lansing Area Aids Network (LAAN), I had really never tried to imagine what life might be like for someone diagnosed with HIV. I never wondered how it would affect your job, your relationships, your morale—or how it would feel to live with this disease as an everyday part of life.
So when a volunteer position to work as a liaison between Riv and LAAN opened up, it seemed like a unique opportunity. I hoped it would affect some local people’s lives for the better, and I had an inkling that it might challenge my worldview. So I took it.
Living with AIDS in Mid-Michigan
I am not under the illusion that I personally did any great service for LAAN clients, but my interactions over the course of two years did offer glimpses of local people affected by HIV. LAAN serves upwards of two hundred mid-Michigan clients at any given time. Not only does the organization work for prevention and early diagnosis of the disease; but it also helps clients learn to deal with social, emotional, economic, and medical implications that go along with HIV and AIDS. Volunteering there brought some things sharply into focus for me, especially the fact that I live near people whose everyday lives are etched with a harsh reality very different from my own.
One story that I heard still haunts me. It was the account of a family from another continent, persecuted and struggling to survive. The husband was violently killed a refugee camp, after which his surviving wife was sexually assaulted and impregnated by a camp guard who had AIDS. Shortly after, the new mother made it to the United States—actually, Lansing—where she and her little one were quickly directed to LAAN. Social workers at LAAN helped her formulate a go-forward plan, so very different than the one she had hoped to find. I imagine that her days are often filled with prescriptions and doctor appointments; but I know it’s better than it would have been had LAAN not existed.
Loving with LAAN
So how does Riv play into all this? We send drive items LAAN’s way whenever possible—things like food, personal care items, and sometimes school supplies or Christmas gifts. Frankly, we have limited opportunity, because LAAN’s clientele must be kept strictly confidential. But here are a few things we can do to lend a hand in supporting those in our community who suffer from HIV/AIDS.
- Riv is collecting Thanksgiving grocery donations during November to help eligible LAAN clients afford to celebrate the holiday. You can sign up here to participate. (Note: You won’t be delivering the groceries directly, but will bring the food to the church lobby.)
- You can volunteer to go to the LAAN office two days before Thanksgiving and help distribute the groceries mentioned above to clients, and then drive people home with their goodies.
- You can encourage the LAAN staff and volunteers by providing an appreciation lunch. (Our goal is to provide this once a month. Honestly, we have a hard time getting volunteers for this.)
- At any time, you can collect non-perishable food or personal care items and make a donation to the LAAN pantry.
If reading this makes you want to take action, do it! Perhaps your kindness will impact a life. Maybe a LAAN client, maybe a LAAN volunteer, maybe a LAAN social worker. Maybe someone who needs to see Jesus in action.
Image Credit: Sham Hardy