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Positively U Opens In Winter Haven To Offer Safe Space For Locals With HIV/AIDs

Positively U Opens In Winter Haven To Offer Safe Space For Locals With HIV/AIDs

by James Coulter

Photo credit: Brianna Price

Geneva Galloway has been living with HIV for the past 34 years. The biggest struggle for her, as with other people with HIV/AIDs, has been the stigma attached to the disease.

Even with the overall general public becoming more aware and educated of the disease since its discovery in the 1980s, many people still have misconceptions about it and the people who have it. This can make people with the disease feel marginalized within society.

As the program coordinator of Positively U, a local non-profit, community-based organization created by and for HIV-positive individuals within Central Florida, Galloway helps others with HIV/AIDs overcome their general stigma through social opportunities for them and educational opportunities for the general public.

“Being in Positively U allows us to be educated and we can make other people aware,” she said. “We take advantage of teachable moments, so we educate ourselves and do a lot of training so that we can help people…and be able to correct that misinformation through the services that we have.”

Galloway has been involved with Positively U over the past two years. She was introduced to it through her friend, Janet Kitchen, who serves as its executive director. So dedicated was she to the organization that Galloway moved from her home in North Carolina to help out in Florida, she said.

“It is near and dear to my heart to serve the Winter Haven area as best as we can,” she said. “My time with her has been phenomenal. I like the concept that we are out of the box and we are able to help clients that are in need.”

Positively U recently celebrated the grand opening of its new Winter Haven location with a ribbon cutting ceremony hosted by the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce last Thursday.

Located in Downtown Winter Haven at 340 First Street S., the new location resides within a two-story house. The overall homey environment allows it to feel almost like a home away from home for its clients, ensuring that it serves as a safe space for HIV/AIDs positive individuals.

Aside from offering their clients assistance in receiving their medication and other healthcare needs, Positively U also offers clients the opportunity to socialize with other individuals with HIV/AIDs through monthly socials and a weekly support group via conference call.

“So we have people from all walks of life calling into the number, and we are all HIV positive, and we talk about HIV and different things going on in the world today,” Galloway said. “It is a comfort zone, [and] it is a zone in the comforts of your home.”

Janet Kitchen, the executive director, decided to open the new location to better serve the Central Florida area. They also have locations in Tampa and Jackson, Mississippi, but Kitchen felt compelled to help those within the Winter Haven area.

“My heart still comes back here to Polk County because I live in Polk County,” she said. “I saw there was a need for a place to go to. My hopes and dreams was to create a safe space to help guide those [with the disease] so that they would not be alone.”

Kitchen herself was diagnosed with HIV 14 years ago. She too knows the struggles that such individuals face when it comes to getting their healthcare and social needs met, and she has been helping others meet those needs over the past two years through her non-profit organization.

Currently, they service more than 300 clients, Kitchen said. They hope that they continue to help more people and that their services for them continue to grow in the near future, especially at their new Winter Haven location.

“My expectation for me is for us to have so many people that we need a new location,” she said. “We know that there are people here in the Polk County area that are living with HIV and AIDs and do not have a place to socialize with others living with HIV. So our focus is to have a place where they can have a safe space coming and meeting other people and socialize and stay healthy.”

Positively U is located at 340 First Street S., Winter Haven, Fl., 33880. For more information, call 863-875-9351, or visit their website at: https://www.positivelyu.org/

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