This post is part III of a five-part series of interviews with my Jesuit Volunteer housemates in Baltimore. Parts I & II can be found here.
Today is World AIDS Day and many different sites like Google, Facebook, and Twitter are doing their part to raise awareness by joining the (RED) campaign. Raising awareness and money for AIDS/HIV research is very important, but today, I would like to introduce you to Stacey Hirst, someone who makes World AIDS Day into an everyday thing. Stacey is one of those people who is always able to cut through the gook to offer the God’s honest truth about things. Oh, and she’s also smart, passionate, and has great taste in music. Here’s more about Stace of Bass in her own words:
Don Miller House/Homes in Baltimore were the foundation for the AIRS organization which provides housing for low income individuals and families with or at risk of HIV/AIDS. Specifically, Don Miller House (DMH) is an adult foster program that provides a living community for single adults who are HIV+ and suffer from some other disability, such as diabetes, serious mental illness, poor ambulation, heart disease, etc. DMH was historically a hospice care facility, and while it still serves individuals living with end stage AIDS, due to improvements in treatment, the residents of DMH are living longer and healthier lives. Therefore, DMH has been able to implement more programming to educate residents on self-care and independent living skills. The residents vary greatly in the care they require. Some residents are fairly independent while others are very dependent on the care givers; so DMH seeks to provide services that are appropriate for a great range of resident needs.
What’s your schedule like? What does a typical day/night at work look like?
My schedule can change drastically from week to week. My specific position, residential aid, has three possible shifts: 7am-3pm, 3pm-11pm, or 11pm-7am, seven days a week. While I get two days off a week, they are not always the same two days, and we work holidays (meaning we will get a day for that holiday off at some other time, but not necessarily on that day). Each shift has different responsibilities, but the main idea for each is the same. We are there to insure that each resident is comfortable and that their medical and personal needs are being addressed. My primary duties at work are to administer medication for each resident (most take meds 2 x daily, some 3 or 4), prepare and serve meals, clean bedrooms and common areas, assist with hygiene, etc. One additional project that the Jesuit Volunteer typically takes on is a med recycling program. I organize discontinued medications or recently expired medications that we would otherwise dispose of and donate them to an organization that will then distribute the medications to people who cannot afford the extremely costly antiviral medications needed to treat HIV. I am currently organizing the medications and will hopefully be making the first shipment in early January. In addition to these required duties, I also spend time with individual residents doing things such as reading, art projects, painting the ladies’ nails, playing games (mostly Bingo or Uno), etc.
What are some of the challenges that you face everyday at work?
The challenges I face at work are constantly changing. Some days are easy, and some days are very difficult. The range of residents can be difficult to manage at times. While one resident may be really sick and not able to eat or get out of bed, other residents are needing to be entertained and fed. Often times it’s difficult to match my attitude to the needs of the individual residents. In addition, because some of my residents do suffer from severe mental illness, I have to be aware of what I say and how I say things…my sense of humor maybe doesn’t always work at work. I think I’ve gained a lot of appreciation for nurses and other health care workers. Being in their shoes, especially when I’m cleaning up bodily fluids, has given me a greater respect and appreciation for their profession. Most of the challenges are good challenges that I am learning a lot from… I definitely think I am becoming more patient and more grateful for the things I have.
What types of issues and challenges do your residents face?
My residents obviously have many challenges they face on any given day. Obviously they deal with the effects of their illnesses on a daily basis, but I think more than that they struggle with the fact that they don’t have much of a support system outside of DMH. Many of the residents either don’t have family, or don’t see them, except on an occasional holiday. Some residents are parents, spouses, were previously professional employees, etc.. Thus, I think that for them being debilitated to the point that they can’t take care of themselves is a huge personal struggle that they face on a day to day basis. Lastly, although most residents are healthy enough to do things outside of the house, either the transportation or funding for them to attend a day program is unavailable, and so they spend the majority of the time inside the house. Although DMH provides them with their primary health and living needs, they can’t possibly provide all the social needs necessary to live a happy and fulfilling life. While we try to promote community and keep the residents busy, there’s only so much that can be done inside a home, especially when our residents are healthy enough to leave.
Why JVC? Why AIDS/HIV Services?
Since the beginning of college I had entertained the idea of JVC. As I became more involved in groups on my campus (Seattle University) and became more educated about the social injustices within the United States, I knew that JVC and it’s four values would be a way that I could not only learn more about these structural institutions, but also take part in transforming them. I specifically chose HIV/AIDS ministry because I am passionate, on a scientific level, about finding better treatments and hopefully a cure/vaccine for the future. During college I took several classes in which we discussed both the scientific and societal impacts of this disease, and actually researched two specific HIV medications for my senior synthesis. I thought that HIV/AIDS ministry would give me a very personal and human understanding of this disease and how it affects individuals on the most basic levels. Although I had studied the virus itself on a scientific level, I felt that I was missing the personal component that I believe is necessary to really make changes occur that will improve the lives of those infected.
I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu last summer!
Thank you, Stacey, and thank you for all that you do!