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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
FLORIDA: Church Offers Help for Folks with HIV/AIDS
Gail Hollenbeck
December 14, 2011
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."