Going into the retreat this year, I was excited to get to know everyone and learn, but the emotion that dominated my thoughts was nerves. I tend to get overwhelmed when meeting large numbers of people at once, but this was a different type of nerves than usual. I spent the week leading up to the retreat obsessing over how I, a white, straight, college graduate who does not have HIV, would be received by this community. I imagined that the hiring of a negative person to a community based organization would have ruffled some feathers, and understandably so.
However, everyone at the retreat made it clear from the start that I was welcomed. I have never received so many kind words and hugs from near strangers, and I’m happy to have been able to get to know so many of you. I feel so honored to have been welcomed into your community, and I hope I will be able to serve you all well.
I came away from the retreat feeling even more motivated and inspired to get to work. Thank you to everyone who opened up with me and shared your concerns. Something that I heard over and over was that outside of the retreat, people feel isolated, physically and socially. This is a big challenge in such a rural state, but I think I’m in a unique position to help. One of my main focuses going forward will be setting up support networks throughout the state, whether that be through technology or in person.
If you have any ideas or input or would like to help, please reach out to me! Feel free to contact me with any needs that you have! You can call me at 802-917-5780 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michelle O'Donnell, Consumer Advocate