The Buddy Program at ActionAIDS is a 29-year-old volunteer program that matches a volunteer Buddy, who has sensitivity to HIV/AIDS issues, with an individual who has been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, in order to provide that person with emotional support, companionship, and sometimes assistance with the tasks of daily living in order to maintain their well being. Truly living up to the ActionAIDS vision, of making sure that “no one faces HIV/AIDS alone,” a Buddy volunteer can act as that presence in times of isolation, loneliness, and that sense of “forgotten-ness” that many times accompanies someone who has been living for years with a diagnosis.

Even though we think of HIV/AIDS today as more of a chronic illness, with medications available, probably now more than ever, there is a need for plain old “support” for someone living with the daily effects of HIV. Individuals who live with a chronic disease such as HIV for years (which has no known cure yet), often find, over time, that they are short of people interested in what they experience and have to go through on a daily basis to maintain their health.  This is where a Buddy comes in – someone who is constantly attentive to their concerns, their need for confidentiality, their need to talk or unwind, and yet who can offer continued encouragement.  A Buddy strives to maintain regular monthly contact, either by phone or through face-to-face visits, to be that supportive, present, listening ear.

Did you ever hear of someone saying that they had too MUCH support in their lives?  In today’s world, even with all of the outlets provided by social media, men and women, young and old, especially living with an illness for decades, can find that some family members and friends have lost interest or “moved on” – having become immersed in the issues of their own daily lives.  Yes, often people are supportive when someone is newly diagnosed – but how long does that last?  Days?  Weeks?  Months? (if you are lucky). The Buddy program strives to address that need for ongoing support – freely given, non-judgmental, and respectful, for weeks, months, and even years! That’s kind of hard to find today… anywhere. Buddy volunteers attempt to respond to a need that is so many times ignored or forgotten, but never really goes away.

Our Buddies find their volunteer experience to be highly rewarding. One of our current Buddies, Lisa Bevilacqua, is a clinical researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia with plans to attend medical school next year. As Lisa puts it: “I’ve now been a Buddy for almost six months, and my Buddy is a funny, loving, and giving woman who I’ve enjoyed getting to know. Furthermore, this experience has helped me learn about day-to-day challenges faced by people living with HIV right here in Philadelphia.”

ActionAIDS provides preliminary training and on-going peer support throughout the singular experience provided by participation in the Buddy Program.  If you have interest in becoming a Buddy volunteer at ActionAIDS, please visit our Volunteer page on our website or call (215) 981-3324 for more information.

– Ronald Hoskins, Director of Volunteers