Throughout the years, traditional medicines, alternative treatments and newly developed HIV drugs and therapies have helped so many people living with HIV/AIDS. What was once a fatal illness has now become more of a chronic condition, allowing individuals to live extended lives and to make plans to do things they never thought possible. The Buddy Program of Action Wellness, now in its 31st year, has played a part in helping individuals living with HIV/AIDS to achieve a certain level of wellness. In fact, Action Wellness (formerly ActionAIDS) now offers its services to those in need who experience any chronic illness.
We know that the maintenance of one’s physical health goes hand in hand with both the psychological and social health of a person. The Action Wellness Buddy Program provided both practical help and much-needed companionship to many of our community’s most vulnerable residents. In the early 1980s, Buddies responded in a hands-on manner because, for a variety of reasons — ignorance, fear, discrimination — the help was just not there. Buddy volunteers originally jumped in because others did not (or would not), providing practical assistance including: taking people to doctors, helping to clean houses, shopping for food, doing laundry and caring for pets for those who were first diagnosed in the ’80s. However, because strides have indeed been made medically and in the health-care field, the role of the Buddy has transformed — but certainly has not become obsolete.
Continued illness can be wrought with loneliness. Even the most devoted family and friends can grow weary of someone who is experiencing chronic illness. Visits get reduced, phone calls dry up and the level of interest can begin to dissipate. Many people who are sick begin to notice the gradual decline of support. Or, because many people living with HIV do live for years now, and in doing so may have outlived their family members and friends upon whom they once depended for human interaction.
Long-term survivors need long-term human support. Because of these realities, the Action Wellness Buddy volunteer today provides just as important a role as other factors in the maintenance of a person’s health. That is because the Buddy Program at Action Wellness emphasizes the “person-to-person” element of wellness and recovery. A Buddy volunteer provides emotional support, companionship, socialization and practical assistance with certain tasks of daily living, on a regular basis, one-on-one. Buddies break down loneliness, isolation, weariness and boredom that can accompany any chronic illness.
Action Wellness has 175 Buddy volunteers in its program. These dedicated volunteers span the spectrum of age, race and ethnicity. They are a diverse group of people all sensitive to those living with HIV and other chronic illnesses, who desire to build a bond with an individual — most likely someone whom they would not have otherwise met. The program has volunteers who have been Buddies for 15, 20, 25 and even 30 years! Buddies are recruited, screened, trained and then matched with a registered client. Some matches have lasted for years. The expectation is for the Buddy to be in regular contact with the person assigned them, by phone weekly, and to have face-to-face meetings two to three times a month.
Action Wellness is always looking for new volunteers. Consider becoming a Buddy to someone living with a chronic illness who can utilize your humanity and caring. When you become involved in the Action Wellness Buddy Program, it provides you with ongoing education and the opportunity to be that long-term human support for someone who needs you — someone whom you may have never met before if it were not for such a program of connection as this one. Think about becoming a volunteer Buddy — it will create a bond that you will never forget!
Ron Hoskins is the director of volunteers at Action Wellness. For more information about the Buddy Program, visit www.actionwellness.org/volunteer/buddy-program/.