During the afternoon of July 14th, leaders from various government, non-profit, medical, and faith community sectors of Baltimore City came together at the University of Maryland Institute of Human Virology to finalize plans for what may be the largest single day of HIV testing in the history of the region.
Scheduled for Monday, July 19th at fourteen testing sites set throughout the city, the initiative is part the the JACQUES Initiative’s “Project SHALEM.” “Shalem” is a word that means “Peace” in many religious traditions implying wholeness with nothing broken and no one left behind. The project’s focus is to bring together faith communities to provide safe and empowering places for those infected with HIV to not only avoid sickness, but to live holistically well and fulfilling lives.
Alongside the Gallery Church of Baltimore’s City Uprising Service Week, the July 19th day of free HIV testing is an ambitious project seeking to test over 1,500 people in a single day. Churches and community centers throughout the city will be opening up their buildings to invite in the community around them to be tested and cared for. Volunteers from all over the United States coming as far as Alaska and Kentucky will join local congregations to canvass neighborhoods to encourage testing at nearby sites.
This year’s single day of free testing has brought together a lot more than just churches and medical clinics. It has managed to bring together an entire city’s worth of resources in true partnership. Those present at the meeting included representatives from the Baltimore City Health Dept and the Maryland Dept of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Infectious Diseases and Environmental Health Administration (IDEHA). Also present were non-profit groups like Hope Springs and companies like Gilead Pharmaceutical.
Each organization brought their own resources and perspectives to bare in order to make the initiative happen. The Baltimore City Dept of Health has signed on to provide free transportation for any person tested positive to provide rides to the JACQUES Clinic to receive proper care. Hope Springs has trained numerous volunteers from churches across the Baltimore region to become certified HIV testers and counselors. Gilead Pharmaceuticals has donated enough money to provide free boxed meals for anyone who comes out to be tested. Many HIV positive clients of the JACQUES clinic were also present to show their support and volunteer for the day to provide the personal counsel of their own stories to encourage and walk alongside anyone who will discover they are HIV positive.
Here was a picture of synergy with enough zeal to begin a new movement in the way we address HIV.
At the closing of the organizing meeting, Derek Spencer, director of the JACQUES Initiative, asked the question “What have we heard here this afternoon?” The responses from the audience carried a heavy sense of both joy and responsibility for the task ahead. One voice stated how excited it was to be moving out of the clinics and into the city, to bring care to those across MLK Jr Blvd instead of making them come to the UMD Medical Campus. Another voice shared the joy of seeing “church folk” finally start acting as they should, displaying God’s love to those in need. Another proudly said they were finally seeing the “We in HIV,” a phrase used by the JACQUES Initiative to punctuate the need for entire communities to come together in order to effectively fight the virus.
It is often easier to design and implement programs alone instead of engage in real partnership with other organizations. Real collaboration can be challenging with mixed priorities and frustrating miscommunications. However, learning to work together can yield results two or three times greater than what we can do alone. With an issue as vitally important as HIV here in the Baltimore-Washington region, only when we come together will we be able to make a long and lasting impact. Based on on the impressive showing of unity displayed here between private, public, and parish, we are off to a good start.
Want to join the movement? The JACQUES Initiative, Hope Springs, and the Gallery Church of Baltimore welcome all seeking to volunteer for the July 19th Testing Day as testing site support staff or neighborhood canvasser. Learn more by visiting www.togetherbaltimore.com. Registration and training will take place from 12-4 on Sunday, July 18th at the Gallery Church’s Broom Corn Building location at 1407 Fleet St. Walk-ins are welcome.