Jenny, not her real name, has HIV/AIDS. The virus still lurks in the streets of America, including the neighborhoods of Sanford, Jenny’s hometown.
She has come a long way in just eight months. Jenny said in an interview Friday that she finally reached a point where she accepted the disease and the responsibility for taking care of herself.
“I didn’t accept it at first,” she admitted. Now, however, she feels more healthy. She has gained a few pounds since bottoming out at about 90. She takes her medication for HIV and diabetes. She also prays.
It is people like Jenny that the Sanford Stroll is intended to help.
The Sanford Stroll will benefit the Hope and Help Center of Central Florida. The event takes place March 31 at the Central Florida Zoo. Registration begins at 8 a.m.
In Sanford, Hope and Help has case managers at the Turning Point agency on Third Street and the Seminole County Health Department on Airport Boulevard.
Miss Tee, as she is known, volunteers for Hope and Help and is on the staff of Turning Point. She has been doing outreach to Sanford HIV patients and homeless people for about 10 years.
Her role is to help individuals understand how the virus work and when people need treatment.
“We’ve come a long way,” she said, explaining that there used to nothing in Seminole County to help HIV/AIDS patients. They had to go to Orlando, she said. “We’ve gotten people to come out of the woodwork.”
Hope and Help spokeswoman Sabrina Deshner said the face of AIDS has changed somewhat through the years, but it hasn’t gone away.
The Hope and Help Center served more than 8,000 people in 2006. In Seminole County, the most recent statistics show that there are 1,261 known cases of HIV/AIDS. There are 12,800 in Central Florida and Florida ranks third among the 50 states in the number of AIDS cases.
One thing that hasn’t changed about AIDS is the stigma.
People who have the virus often have a clue, but they are afraid to admit it. They may not seek help until they are very sick. Miss Tee said some come too late and in a few months they are gone. The virus still kills people.
Those who have it know the isolation from family and friends that often accompanies the knowledge.
Karen Ginder works with HIV/AIDS clients for the county Health Department. She said clients often enter through a back door. She has had people actually back away from her when she tells them about her job.
She said they see about 130 patients regularly. She describes the relationship with Hope and Help as a good one.
Hope and Help and Turning Points are among agencies to which the Health Department refers clients. Miss Tee wants everyone to practice safe sex, but also to know their HIV/AIDS status. To do that people need to get tested.
It is difficult, however, when people deny that they have HIV/AIDS and their low self-esteem makes acting on it almost impossible. They turn to drugs and alcohol, but like Jenny said Friday, neither one helps.
“Drugs take away whatever’s bothering you just for a moment, but when it wears away, the problems seem worse,” Jenny said. “I pray a lot and go to church,” she said. Drugs are still all around her and when it gets too difficult to deal with, she sometimes just gets away.
“I take off and walk so it doesn’t pull me in,” she said Friday at Turning Point.
Drugs have hurt her teeth, but soon she will be fitted for dentures and she hopes a job will follow. She has custody of her children again. She talks with them about addiction.
“It’s nothing that they want to experience,” she said.
This is the third Sanford Stroll. To find out more about the walk and about Hope and Help, check out www.hopeandhelp.org.