Jonathan Heins was diagnosed with HIV in the early 80s and was unsure about what was next.
"The people with HIV worked on helping each other. It was a death sentence at that time," Heins said.
Heins was given just six months to live, but through the help of support groups and other outlets, he survived. From that moment on, he dedicated his own life to helping others by joining the Vermont People with AIDS Coalition. "We've kind of evolved into an organization that develops some empowerment in people to have them help themselves as much as possible," he said.
The coalition is funded by a grant from the Vermont Department of Health AIDS Program and donations. Its mission is to help people living with HIV or AIDS navigate the health care system. They also support World AIDS Day, an international effort to raise awareness about the HIV/AIDS pandemic."We commemorate this World AIDS Day by trying to shout out that, no, it hasn't gone away and people still need our help. And to remember that we have lost loved ones," Heins said.
Last year the message was shared on Church Street. This year the PWA Coalition chose to gather right outside of the State House. The Coalition currently helps about 600 Vermonters who are living with HIV or AIDS, and this year they hope to spread the word about how people can help, while also breaking the stigma associated with AIDS and HIV. "We also want the citizens of Vermont to understand that we're real people," Heins said. "You don't have to have HIV to stand on the State House lawn and say, we care."
Heins has been attending World AIDS Day events since the late 1980's, when December 1 was originally dedicated as a day of remembrance. He says his biggest mission is to remember those lost and create awareness. "We really want people to remember how not to get HIV -- we want to prevent anybody else from being infected," he said.
The first step toward prevention is remembering those lost, and giving survivors access to a better life.
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