Hey gang! I just returned from a HIV/AIDS Convention called Positive Living in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida this past weekend. We had a caravan that traveled from Jacksonville to Ft. Walton Beach. My support group from Lutheran Social Services and the other group that I sponsor the Rose traveled together. Needless to say when you have that many people traveling together it makes for some fun and exciting times. There were a total of about 40 people from Jacksonville at the convention.
OASIS (Okaloosa AIDS Support and Informational Services), Butch McKay and his staff did an excellent job! It was a first rate convention. (For more information, see the link to OASIS at the bottom of the page.)
I was very impressed with several factors. First of all they were kind enough to not turn anyone away that wanted to attend and ended up with over 400 participants even though they had only planned for 300. We had participants from as far away as Pennsylvania, Washington DC, Maryland, Africa and California.
They also had planned an excellent series of discussion lectures and forums for the participants. Subject matters were diverse and appropriate for people from long term survivors to newly diagnosed individuals. The lectures that I attended were very well presented and informative.
Besides the lectures and forums, Butch and his staff had many other events and meals planned for us. There was a music and dance event, outside meal and general speeches. We were also entertained during our Saturday evening dinner by a chorus from MCC in Pensacola, Florida and a campy number by some of the guest speakers.
On Sunday at the end of the convention, we had an advocacy meeting that was facilitated by NAPWA (National Association of People With AIDS). People were encouraged to answer questions and share their stories about HIV and AIDS. I was so proud of my women from Jacksonville who are members of the Rose support group that I sponsor. Several of them got up for the first time to share their stories... it brought tears to my eyes I was so proud of them for standing up, facing their fears and using their voices.
I personally had the pleasure of meeting several people that I've been admired for their work in HIV/AIDS and/or talking to by email for months and months and now meeting them in person. Stephen from NAPWA, Butch McKay, Jessie with Pfizer, Bishop Joyce Turner Keller, and Dr. Sherry Meltz.
I also made several new contact and friends during the convention from several cities. Some are even interested in starting the Teddy Bear Touchdown for kids with HIV and AIDS in their communities. (Atlanta, Birmingham and Montgomery) That alone made my weekend complete. It's always been my dream to find a way to make the holidays a little bit brighter for children with this virus.
The only downside was the horrible weather the first night of the convention. We had hurricane force winds and driving rain with freezing temperatures. So we were unable to enjoy the beautiful pools with their waterfalls to their full beauty. The hotel also had to close the shops and bar in the oasis area due to the bad weather.
We did have an emergency when we started home. One of my girls, Peaches, started going into renal failure. So we had to rush her to the closest hospital and get her stabilized. They said she wouldn't have made it home to Jax without having a heart attack. She was moved to the hospital here in Jacksonville today so I'm going to go visit her tomorrow if she's allowed visitors.
We also had major problems with the van we borrowed. The transmission started going out, there was a bad oil leak and the engine was smoking by the time we got back to LSS. We were just glad we made it back to Jacksonville in one piece safe and sound considering all that. A normally 6 hour trip ended up taking around 9 hours.
It's going to be a very busy rest of the week with meetings, doctor appointment, LSS food bank and Divided We Fail at Edwards Waters College on Friday. Then the hunt for the political candidates in Mississippi begins!
Hope that all of you had a great weekend and an even better week! Wishing you health, hope and happiness.
Big bear hug,