Creating Sacred Space at AHP
“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed” -Maya Angelou
The camaraderie between AHP volunteer facilitators David Fredrickson and Alex Martinez is obvious. Like romantic partners in an enduring relationship, the two men, who have co-facilitated an HIV/AIDS support group for nine years, engage effortlessly. They complete each other’s sentences and one nods in agreement while the other is speaking.
And like partners in successful relationships, they complement one another: Fredrickson is soft spoken and thoughtful while Martinez is animated and charismatic. Their paths to AHP also reflect similar motivations and different experiences with the epidemic.
“My first partner, my therapist, my doctor, my friends, were all dying” explained Martinez, who has been a volunteer facilitator since 1987. “I was 18 years old and I wanted to do something, so my best friend and I went to Shanti and took the training on how to be emotional support volunteer.” Martinez remains ardent in his dedication. “This is what I do,” he said. “My day job takes care of my wallet; being a group facilitator at AHP takes care of my soul.”
Fredrickson came to AHP after he could no longer work as a therapist because of HIV related health issues. AHP offered him an alternative, and he has not missed a group in nine years. According to Fredrickson, “AHP’s model is inherently hopeful, because it assumes people will make the changes they need to make in their lives.” He adds, “providing they have the support” the AHP group offers them.
“We have all survived an immense trauma,” Fredrickson said, “and my weekly commitment is to sit in the room with HIV and remember and witness, and this is a sacred and heart-opening opportunity.”
Although the topics group participants cope with have changed over time—from end-of-life issues to discussions of dating, disclosure, work and aging—both Martinez and Frederickson insist the group process remains a vital healing tool for people who have lived through the epidemic and are trying to live their lives the best way they can.
“We create a safe space for people to talk about whatever they need to talk about,” Fredrickson explained. “For their honesty and willingness to open up and share their inner process, I am truly grateful.”