St. Petersburg Times (11.26.11) - Wednesday, December 14,
The Spring Hill United Church of Christ in November launched
"Red Project," an educational and support group for people
living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. The group meets from 7 to
8:30 p.m. on the last Tuesday of each month at the church.
"For the past two years, our church has declared itself open
to all people, regardless of age, race, gender, ethnicity,
sexual identity, health or disabilities, economic status or
family structure," explained the Rev. Carlan Helgeson. "As
part of that inclusiveness of all people in our congregation,
we are excited to be able to reach out to those who may lack
the support and affirmation that comes from being HIV-positive
or having AIDS."
Red Project will be led by Ray Gomez, a congregant and
ministerial student. "A lot of churches do not want to service
or go out of their way to reach the HIV population," said
Gomez, who is gay and HIV-positive. "It's unfortunate because
a lot of people with HIV live in this community. There's so
much stigma still attached to HIV, so [for that reason] many
people don't want anything to do with church."
In addition to being an advocate and peer in the field, Gomez
is a certified HIV prevention specialist, testing counselor,
and educator. Topics at his groups will include "I Just Tested
Positive: Now What?" "Talking with My Health Care Provider:
The Stuff You Need to Discuss," and "Medication Adherence:
What's Important and Why?"
Helgeson said those wanting to attend Red Project need not
feel obliged to participate in the church. "There are no
strings attached," he said. "My biggest hope is that people
find inner healing and form bonds of friendship from
participating in Red Project."