Sunday, September 14, 2008

HIV/AIDS Collaborative of Long Beach

One of the big collaborative projects that I've been working on is the HIV/AIDS Collaborative of Long Beach. Representing Catalyst Community, I've been on the core development and planning team for this since last year along with my friends from Global Lifeworks and (my first baby) Kingdom Causes. Together, we've been meeting once per month for over a year to formulate details of what and how we wanted to work within the HIV/AIDS community here in Long Beach.

I can say that the collaborative process is very interesting! We've learned a lot about each other (and ourselves) but through it all we've built a degree of trust with one another. We're all learning to value each of our contributions to the project as we all sit at the same table as a team.

Everyone on the team has contributed to what we're doing. One of the things I'm proud to have contributed is helping to catalyze our direction towards building a mutually supportive community. I'm not interested in starting just another project where "we" (healthy people) help "them" (sick people). There are a number of great programs that already exist and I'd rather not reinvent the wheel.

I wanted something more organic and something more catalytic . . . .

So months ago, I introduced the idea that "the community is the collaborative". In other words, the team is simply there to catalyze the HIV/AIDS community but that it wouldn't rely on the team as the collaborative to host events and so on. Rather, we'd catalyze a community of both HIV positive AND HIV negative individuals to work together, build relationship, and to meet each others needs - regardless of HIV status. This would equalize the community and communicate the fact that we all have value and can mutually give and receive from one another.

What does this look like?

It could be someone volunteering to drive someone else to the pharmacy. It could be someone sitting down with someone else to teach them how to use the computer. It could be someone hanging out with someone else over coffee to get to know one another. It could be someone taking someone else to the grocery store. It could be someone hosting a dinner party. Which of these "someones" and "someone elses" are HIV positive? It doesn't matter! It's not about making HIV positive folks feel like a project and making HIV negative folks feel like they're do-gooders. It's about inspiring a community of both HIV positive and negative individuals to be good neighbors.

I've always believed that it's difficult to really get to know another person in a group setting. Personally, I prefer smaller group things and one on one interactions. However, I also believe that we need a balance to catalyze community.

Here's what I refer to as my organic approach to catalyzing community in a nutshell:

Events are an opportunity to facilitate introductions between people. More events allows people to become familiar with each other. Once familiarity develops, shared interests can be identified and trust gradually forms. As trust is established, people will begin to connect on more personal and casual contexts outside of the events while events
concurrently continue to happen. Relationship develops as people continue to connect. As trust and relationship are nurtured, people will naturally form partnership and collaboration around shared interests and causes. That's when we can organize and mobilize.

In the process where relationship happens, that's where we can educate each other about the facts and realities of living with HIV and AIDS. (I believe this approach to catalyzing community can be applied in any context.)

We had a lunch time event yesterday where we introduced the vision for this kind of community. We had about 25 people there - men, women, families, singles, HIV positive, HIV negative, young, old. It really was quite exciting to cast vision and to see everyone begin to own it for themselves. "We" are the collaborative!

There's much more I'd like to say as there is more going on in terms of pointing people to existing resources in the community; perhaps I'll write more in future blogs as things develop. But for now i'll share with you the official vision and mission of the HIV/AIDS Collaborative of Long Beach.

Our vision is to build a mutually supportive community between HIV positive and HIV negative individuals that cultivates authentic relationships while meeting the physical, spiritual, and psychosocial needs of everyone involved.

Our mission is to:

*Create a safe environment that facilitates open and honest sharing in the spirit of friendship.

*Provide opportunities for people to volunteer, encourage, and acknowledge one another.

*Promote citywide involvement in providing services, resources, workshops, and spiritual support to empower individuals in the HIV/AIDS and broader communities.

I'll try to keep you posted as things progress!

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