- Last Updated on 10:26 PM 11/22/13
- BY The Gazette-Virginian
As a way to honor those who have struggled with HIV, the Halifax County AIDS Service Organization is hosting a candle light vigil on Dec. 1 at 6 p.m. at the courthouse in Halifax.
The vigil is also a way for the organization to re-launch since gaining non-profit status in September.
President and founder of the Halifax County AIDS Service Organization Cindy Sullins said anyone who cares about HIV, wants to honor someone who has HIV, wants to celebrate the life of anyone they’ve lost due to HIV, and those who want to simply share their support are welcome.
“Basically the biggest thing is to honor those who came before us, people who have struggled on,” said Sullins. “We want to provide unity in the HIV community in Halifax County. We want people to feel a sense of unity, love and compassion and a place to celebrate the life of people with HIV.”
The Dec. 1 date was chosen because it is also World’s AIDS Day, and the anniversary of when the Halifax County AIDS Service Organization was founded in 2011.
Sullins said, “It’s kind of like our holiday.”
The vigil will begin with an overview of HIV over the last 30 years, then two community leaders who lost their sons due to HIV will speak.
Guests also will have a chance to share their stories and experiences with HIV, and prayer will be held.
“Only requirements are bring your own candle and park at the jail,” said Sullins. “We would love to have a strong showing of support.”
Coming from a place of love, Sullins said she hopes this event will show those who have quietly suffered that there are people who care.
According to the Virginia Department of Health, 90 documented cases of HIV can be found in Halifax County.
Sullins pointed out those are just the ones who have been reported; she said there could be more.
“There are still many people who believe that HIV is some type of dirty disease that only affects those who inject drugs, are homosexual or just perform dirty acts, but that’s not the case,” said Sullins.
“Many people are scared to talk about their disease,” Sullins added.
Throughout her life, Sullins says she has seen too many people who think that HIV is something that cannot happen to them.
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Sullins spent a lot of her time educating people about HIV and passing out condoms because she said a lot of her friends were dying from it, and she felt helpless.
Sullins moved back to Halifax County in the late ‘90s, where she started her family and “kind of got out of it.”
Then in 2011, she met up with a friend for lunch while she was on a family vacation in Myrtle Beach. That encounter changed her life.
“I had not seen this friend in 20 years, and he was telling me about the work he was doing with his local AID service organization,” said Sullins.
“After talking with him, I knew that I needed to start back educating others about HIV because that is my passion. So, that was the catalyst that created a whole course of events.”
Soon after, Sullins enrolled back in school to become a nurse practitioner, and now she is in the graduate Family Nurse Practitioner Program at Old Dominion University.
She also has applied to Duke “because they offer an HIV nurse practitioner concentration” and is waiting to hear from them.
The Halifax County AIDS Service Organization hopes to expand its current endeavors by helping HIV victims with medication, transportation, and “just anything they can’t do for themselves.”
The next step for the organization is to purchase office space.
“We want to have a place where people can come talk to us where we can offer rapid HIV testing in a confidential environment or just be there to point them in the right direction,” said Sullins.
The Halifax County AIDS Service Organization has attended and hosted several events.
On Oct. 24, they dispelled myths of HIV during their Health Night Out titled “HIV: It’s okay to talk about it.” at Halifax Regional Hospital.
In March, they manned a booth at the Healthy Living Expo for the third year in a row.
Knowing that the Halifax County AIDS Service Organization speaks a difficult language for some to speak, Sullins said they are trying to show the face of HIV instead of being this big elephant in the room.
“HIV does not discriminate, and we’re really trying to share that message with people while showing a softer side of HIV. Hearing stories from others, we are hoping they will connect with them and think that could have been my husband or my son,” said Sullins.
Persons interested in volunteering with the Halifax County AIDS Service Organization should attend the next meeting on Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. held in the Halifax Regional Hospital small dietary conference room.
The organization also is available to attend schools, other organizations’ events or churches to educate the community about HIV.