Hope Wissel

World AIDS Day 2016

wad-poster-thumb-2016This day every year makes me emotional as I reflect on the lives of those who lost their battle, those who continue to fight and those who unfortunately will still contract HIV.  For those who don’t know my story, you are probably wondering why this has such an impact on me, right?

When I first entered recovery, I was on PTI (Pre-Trial Intervention) and had to do community service.  They handed me a book and said “pick something”.  I selected the South Jersey AIDS Alliance and the rest is history.  It was then I started what would become a 15 year commitment to those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.  From Case Manager to County Director to Advocate and County Ryan White Grant Manager.

For me, I am reflecting on the lessons that I learned when I worked for the South Jersey AIDS Alliance. As a new “inexperienced” Social Worker and a recovering addict, I was the “crazy white lady” stepping into Bridgeton wanting to help the world. Yes, many of my clients thought it and willing shared as we got to know each other.

I didn’t the people who walked through our doors as “diseased”, “hopeless” or less than. I saw them as people who because of their bad choices were sick. “There by the grace of God go I” was a constant reminder for me since I too had made bad choices over the years.

So what could I do in a little office (actually half a duplex) with little funding, the only paid staff, a handful of volunteers (who in many cases were also clients) and a heart to save them all. In the early years, AIDS was not a “manageable disease” for many it was a death sentence. It took babies from their mothers, it took moms and dads from their kids, it took people from all walks of life – yet no one talked about it. I can remember the first few funerals where the family said “they died of cancer” because they did not want their loved one to be remembered for the stigma of HIV/AIDS. This was the world I dedicated a large portion of my professional life to. Belinda grew up joining me in this battle to end the stigma of HIV/AIDS. She played with kids who were HIV-positive, she shared her toys, she helped with fundraising, as well as sorting and delivering holiday toys. She, too, grew up with a passion for helping people.

Fast forward to today, where little is spoken about HIV/AIDS unless a celebrity says the words. It is now a manageable disease so we seldom hear the prevention message. There are medicines, so why worry, right?

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We aren’t there yet – we are close. There are still 1.1 million people living with HIV in the US today. Only 1 in 4 people are making their way through the obstacles called health care and medications. Let’s not be complacent. Let’s continue to share how HIV can be transmitted.

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Today is in honor of those who lost their fight, and those who continue to fight every day. You blessed my life more than you will ever know. Thank you for allowing this “crazy white chick” to be a part of your lives.

The theme this year is “Leadership, Commitment Impact”.  What will you do to make an impact?  Consider donating to agencies who help improve the quality of life for those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

Have a ThirtyOne-derful day!

Hope Wissel

Giving Tuesday

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Today, we celebrate #GivingTuesday.  Today marks the fifth year of a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration.

#GivingTuesday is celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  I know you are thinking “we give all year long”, right?  The truth is many times we plan to give but the moment passes us by – lack of funds, lack of time or just “a senior moment”.

#GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.  As individuals, we have causes near and dear to our hearts.  Those who may have helped us personally over the years or maybe made a difference in the life of a family member.  Maybe it is just because you can relate to an organization’s mission.

One of the best ways to get involved is in your own community is through #GivingTuesday……

Here are a few of my favorite causes …

  • Redeem-Her was born in 2005 to create second chances for those who need it most. Their mission is to offer help and hope to women reentering the community from rehabilitation facilities, jails and prisons.  They have helped more than 150 women and your support will help them to make a difference in the lives of women in need of a second chance. No donation is too large or small.  If you would like to help us them with their vision of providing second chances for more women, donations can be made at: http://www.redeem-her.org/donate
  • South Jersey AIDS Alliance is a caring, compassionate Organization dedicated to the fight against HIV/AIDS.  Located in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Camden Counties , their vision is to be recognized as a dynamic organization able to efficiently and effectively provide the diverse and integrated program delivery needed to meet the challenges of the rapidly changing nature of the worldwide HIV/AIDS epidemic.
  • Bethel AME Church which also houses Bethel Development Corporation and Bethel Learning Center is the oldest church in the City of Millville.  It houses the longest running soup kitchen in Cumberland County providing hot home-cooked meals four days per week.  The Learning Center is open to children 6 weeks to 5 years of age as well as offering Before and After Care programs.    All programs at Bethel are focused on giving a hand up to those who are struggling – the addicted, the chronically unemployed and the homeless.

#GiveBackWithMe is my way of bringing a smile to someone who is struggling.  Every month, I select one individual who will receive a gift from me along with some encouraging words to let them know they are special and worthy.  To remind them, no matter what the struggle there is someone who cares for them.  Click HERE and help me to make a difference in the life of someone.  Nominations are taken 365 days a year…. one selected each month.

This November 29th, join the movement and give – whether it’s some of your time, a donation, gift or the power of your voice in your local community.   #RandomActofKindness will #makeadifference in the lives of others.  It’s a simple idea. Whether you come together with your family, your community, your company or your organization, find a way to give back and then share your idea.

Share with us YOUR favorite cause with a link on how others can donate to them…Have a ThirtyOne-derful day!

 

Hope Wissel

World AIDS Day 2014

Today December 1st is World AIDS Day.  For some, it is just another day.  For others, it is a time to remember those who have fought the battle and lost, encourage those who continue to fight and educate to end AIDS in our lifetime.  It is exciting to think that this once deadly diagnosis could actually be ended in my lifetime.  I remember the early days of the HIV/AIDS panademic…

For me, I the lessons that I learned when I worked for the South Jersey AIDS Alliance are embedded in my mind.  As a new “inexperienced” Social Worker and a recovering addict, I was the “crazy white lady” that stepped into Bridgeton wanting to help the world.  Yes, that is what many of my clients thought of me and willing shared as we got to know each other.  I didn’t see any of the people that walked through our doors as “diseased”, “hopeless” or less than.  I saw them as people who because of their bad choices were sick.  “There by the grace of God go I” was a constant reminder for me since I too had  made many bad choices over the years.  So what could I do in a little office (actually half a duplex) with little funding, the only paid staff, a handful of volunteers (who in many cases were also clients) and a heart that wanted to save them all.  In the early years, AIDS was not a “manageable disease” for many it was a death sentence.  It took babies from their mothers, it took moms and dads from their kids, it took people from all walks of life – yet no one talked about it.  I can remember the first few funerals where the family said “they died of cancer” because they did not want their loved one to be remembered for the stigma that went with HIV/AIDS.  That was the world that I dedicated many years of my professional life too – a total of about 15.  Belinda grew up joining me in this battle to end the stigma of HIV/AIDS.  She played with kids who were HIV-positive, she shared her toys, she helped with fundraising, as well as sorting and delivering holiday toys.  She grew up with a passion for helping people that I admire.

Fast forward to today, as little is spoken about HIV/AIDS.  It is now a manageable disease so we seldom hear the prevention message.  There are medicines that can help to keep you going, so why worry, right?  The theme for World AIDS Day 2014 is ““Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-free Generation.”  We aren’t there yet but we are close.  There are still 1.1 million people living with HIV in the US today.  Only 1 in 4 people are making their way through the obstacles called health care and medications.  Let’s not be complacent.  Let’s continue to share how HIV can be transmitted.  Let’s all work together for a day when there is an AIDS-Free Generation.

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What are you willing to do to help?  Today, I remember those who fought a great fight – Jackie Wise, Matt McCrossen, Sam, Maria and all of the others who walked through the doors of my office in Bridgeton and the other SJAA offices.  I honor those who continue to fight especially Jeff, Donna and Veronica.  They continue to inspire me with their strength and determination after 23 years.

Honor someone you know who is living with HIV/AIDS or who has lost the fight.  Share their names so we too can honor them.

Have a ThirtyOne-derful day!

#worldaidsdays, #southjerseyaidsalliance, #blessing, #cumberlandcount

 

Hope Wissel, Relax, Reflect, Recharge

Trust and Believe

Happy Saturday!  Hopefully you have survived the unbearable heat that has embraced the Jersey Shore over the last several days.  Now, it is time to enjoy the weekend (despite the shoobies).

Lately I have been thinking about my life’s journey once I entered recovery in 1990.  I am not exactly sure why all of those memories have been flooding back except that it was a time of growth, trials, tears and a unbreakable faith in my Higher Power that everything was going to be okay.  Maybe that is the lesson for me – trust and believe!

red-ribbon1In the beginning at South Jersey AIDS Alliance, I was a volunteer looking to do community service and get on with my life.  I wasn’t looking for a job (though I was on unemployment) especially one in the non-profit world.  What I found changed my life.  The first few months with SJAA, we were working on World AIDS Day – December 1st.  I sat in the office doing anything and everything to help out.  Meeting people who arrived at our doors battered, bruised and seeking acceptance.  Their addiction and bad choices had left them with an incurable disease that would ultimately lead to their death. What I found was a caring, loving group of men and women who accepted me with all of my faults for who I was for I was blessed not to have suffered the same results of my back choices.  When a job became available in the Cumberland County office of SJAA, I was encouraged by Dave Schall (the Case Manager) to apply.  To say the least, I was not their first choice.  I mean what did I know about social work other than being a volunteer.  The Board President at the time, Bob Rougeau,  didn’t think I could handle the job – I had only been clean for about 9 months.  For those of you who know Bridgeton, Cumberland County – it is not exactly the best place to plop an addict with a little bit of clean time.  Thankfully, Matt McCrossen (a client and an HIV/AIDS advocate) along with other staff helped me secure that position.  Instead of relapsing, the could be results of my addiction were kept fresh for me – I dealt with heroin addicts, homeless, moms, kids and anyone else who walked through our doors.  The clients would come to call the little house (our office) on Irving Avenue HOPE’S HOUSE.  No it wasn’t the official title but it was a way for clients to share their HIV/AIDS status without actually saying the words.  It was a safe haven.

I know, you are wondering what yet ANOTHER personal story has to do with being successful in business, right?  The SJAA office was a safe zone for those who were struggling while my safe zone was my faith even when I didn’t know it.  A strange statement – having faith and not knowing it, right?  I trusted that my Higher Power would take care of me while I was on the rough streets of Bridgeton.  I trusted that my Higher Power would protect me when I entered a new client’s home for the first time.   I believed that anyone who truly wanted to change their bad behaviors could.

So, as life tosses me some challenges, when everything is not perfect – I need to go back to a time when I trusted in my Higher Power.  Are you struggling today with a personal or professional problem?  Do you think there is no light at the end of the tunnel?  STOP!  There is a plan for each of us regardless of your beliefs, we just have to trust and BELIEVE.

Have a ThirtyOne-derful day.

Hope Wissel

Ryan White Remembered

This past Monday was the anniversary of Ryan White’s death. Ryan White was diagnosed with AIDS at age 13. He and his mother fought for his right to attend school, gaining international attention as a voice of reason about HIV/AIDS. At the age of 18, Ryan White died on April 8, 1990, just months before Congress passed the AIDS bill that bears his name – the Ryan White CARE (Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency) Act.

WOW! It hardly seems possible that 23 years has passed since his death.  It would be about a year later that I would come to learn about him, his life and how my life would be changed forever with my involvement with the South Jersey AIDS Alliance (SJAA).  

I began with SJAA as a community service volunteer – mandated to do 180 hours of community service.  I finished my hours in the weeks before December 1st, World AIDS Day but the people I met there kept me involved for 9 years.  Memories of Matt McCrossen, Web and many others helped me to put a face to the AIDS panademic.  I joined the staff of SJAA in 1990 working in Cumberland County where AIDS was a taboo subject.  My clients and their families became a part of mine and my daughter, Belinda’s, life.  It was there that Belinda learned about diversity, compassion, giving and helping others.  She gladly shared her toys with others who had nothing.  Holidays took on a special meaning as we, along with my SJAA staff and volunteers, made them special for the children affected and infected with HIV/AIDS in Cumberland County.    

Also during this time, my roommate’s sister was diagnosed with AIDS along with two of her children.  Que and Brittany fought daily for their life against this deadly disease.  Brittany was born the same day as my daughter Belinda and her battle ended quickly while Que lived to the age of 9 years old.  Belinda loved playing with Que, he didn’t talk but they could sit for hours playing and talking in their own way.  

My years working for SJAA, then as Staff for the Cumberland County HIV Planning Council and a Board member of New Jersey Women and AIDS Network – were an emotional journey of growing professionally and personally.  Memories that I am grateful for.  People who taught me so much without even knowing it.  As I look back on the last few years, there is little talk about HIV/AIDS.  An occasional story in paper but not much else.  Some would say that is because there isn’t as big of a problem or it’s not a “deadly” disease now – only a “chronic” disease.  

The bottom line is that there are still people becoming infected.  We need to be proactive in sharing the stories that will prevent others from becoming infected from this deadly disease.  As for me, I will be looking for more opportunities to get involved locally now that I have moved from South Jersey.  I would love to help some families who are infected and/ or affected by HIV/AIDS locally – let me know via email or message if you know someone.  

Have a ThirtyOne-derful day.