Survive & Thrive (2002-2007)

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Developing a Community Response to Support Survivors of Long-term AIDS-related Multiple Loss

The title ‘Survive and Thrive’ originated with ABRPO’s work with long-term survivors in the Ottawa region starting in 1999. Through funding from the AIDS Community Action Plan Ontario Region, ABRPO then conducted a series of twelve ‘Survive & Thrive’ weekend sessions. This project was called, “Practical Tools for Surviving and Thriving With Ongoing Loss.”  The events were targeted to PHAs and long-term survivors in all Ontario regions; one was specifically for long-term volunteers connected to two agencies and one was for workers in ASOs. The funding also enabled ABRPO to hire researchers to develop multiple loss assessment tools and evaluate the effectiveness of our retreats/workshops.

‘Survive and Thrive’ is an effort by ABRPO to respond to the needs of long-term survivors for supportive ways to relate in community which address multiple loss in complex ways. ABRPO is working in partnership with PHA Programs of the Ontario AIDS Network (OAN) to help transfer the knowledge and skills that participating community members and ASO staff require when responding to the impact of catastrophic loss.

People with HIV/AIDS may be living longer, but their lives are complicated with the challenges of quality of life issues and uncertain futures. Deaths are happening where people die suddenly of unfamiliar causes, such as organ failure and heart attacks.

Many of the more “seasoned workers” in agencies have moved on to other jobs with the resultant loss of experience and community history. There has been a significant change in administrators and managers throughout this province in the last four years, as compiled in OAN data.

The losses being faced by workers and community members are only partially related to the unpredictable presence of death. Increasingly, stress is related to

  • the changes associated with HIV itself (treatments, challenges of living longer, new client base)
  • shifts in ASO life (new management, new staff, differing emphasis in the work) and
  • the decline in societal support (AIDS is seen as a chronic, manageable infection with less societal attention).

For newer workers providing services to various communities, it is essential to fully understand the challenges of living long with the impact of ongoing, AIDS-related multiple loss and accompanying community devastation. Only with this understanding will they be able to development of a comprehensive, relevant, professional skill set. This emerging reality redirects the activities of ABRPO from intervening directly with bereaved workers to providing more skills-based training to workers not personally impacted by AIDS losses, but required to work with grief-saturated clients and communities.

The primary outcome of our research on the impact of multiple loss was the identification of ongoing peer support as the most effective support to individuals.  ABRPO is now participating in training of PHA Peer Facilitators to increase skills and resources in the community for PHAs around the province.  See the downloadable posters at the side bar about Environmental Mastery and Effective Peer Facilitation; they were presented at national and international conferences in 2008 and remain relevant in our on-going development of our Resiliency Framework..