2015-16 Annual Report to the Baltimore-Washington Conference
Quality of Life Retreats (QLR), an HIV/AIDS ministry of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, continues to offer respite, renewal and relational support to People Living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) in our region. Participants gather for inspiration and education while forming close bonds with one another. Our quarterly retreats provide life-enhancing encounters and learning experiences to inform participants about their conditions and help them to deal with the multiple challenges—both physical and psychological, social and spiritual—of living with HIV and AIDS. In the process they develop and renew healthy relationships with others, with themselves and with God or the source of their spiritual strength.
The Rev. Terri Rae Chattin led conference members in birthing Quality of Life Retreats in 1988 in response to the alienation, rejection, suffering and loss of life experienced by many people with HIV/AIDS. In 2016 we celebrate 28 years of this vital, life-saving ministry. In that time we have hosted about a hundred retreats serving more than 3,600 people with HIV and AIDS.
Our three-day retreats offer a unique, holistic, participant-focused approach to educating and supporting PLWHA. They receive necessary wisdom to face truths and challenges and to overcome adversity, while connecting socially, spiritually and emotionally with others in a safe space away from the stresses of their daily lives and environments. Here they find rest and renewal, while learning effective strategies for long-term survival.
Our retreats educate participants about managing their health, disease symptoms and medications, and about alternative therapies and emerging discoveries and changes in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Small-group dialogues and exercises provide important insights, community-building, networking and morale-lifting activities. Participants also can benefit from optional worship and spiritual nurture activities, as well as opportunities to meet and mentor one another while sharing experiences and encouragement.
Our participants are diverse in race and ethnicity, gender, age group, faith and sexual orientation. Our equally diverse volunteer board of directors, retreat staff and resource experts collaborate to offer a broad range of knowledge, experience and ideas to the total retreat experience. The staff of each retreat includes guest presenters, small-group leaders, activity directors, a registered nurse who specializes in HIV and a spiritual director.
QLR offers a viable model for compassionate involvement by the religious community in the lives of PLWHA. Our program is ecumenical, interfaith and open to individuals of all beliefs. Churches and individuals—lay and clergy—who participate and support our efforts become vital partners along with community volunteers and helping agencies. We remain grateful for the faithful participation and committed leadership provided by Baltimore-Washington Conference staff and local church leaders, as well as financial support from the BWC through its Connectional Ministries budget, Peace with Justice Sunday offering and Advance Special giving.
We regret that, for the first time in many years, we did not receive funding support from the United Methodist Committee on Relief for 2016, due to unfortunate changes in the agency’s funding priorities and procedures. As a result, we had to reduce our usual four retreats to three. They will take place, at the Baltimore-Washington Conference’s Manidokan Camp & Retreat Center in June, the Lutheran Church’s Mar-Lu Ridge in Frederick in September, and the Washington D.C. Retreat House, a Catholic institution in December, We continue to draw participants primarily from Baltimore, Washington DC and the West Virginia panhandle for our retreats, but also welcome guests from other states near and far.
Undaunted by the loss of UMCOR funding, and ever-committed to serving the people who need us, we have increased our grant writing and local fundraising efforts. For example. we sponsored a benefit concert in September 2015, supported by dozens of attendees and donors. Esteemed vocalist Shirli Hughes and members of her popular, talented choral group Ovation, graced us with their gifts in a memorable concert that also featured a heart-touching testimony by one of our inspired retreatants. We will sponsor another fundraising benefit April 30, 2016, a “Pre-Mothers Day Magical Salute to Moms” at the Beaver Creek Country Club. Magician Michael T., who is also a minister, motivational speaker and TV show host, has graciously agreed to perform his magic for adults and children, as they enjoy a Saturday Brunch and participate in a silent auction. We seek to become even more creative and consistent in our fundraising efforts to help keep this vital ministry and the people it serves alive.
We continue to partner with Glen Burnie UMC, which uses its church bus to transport retreatants from Baltimore to our Western Maryland retreat sites. We also received special donations and aptly named love offerings from Linden-Linthicum UMC in Clarksville and Grace UMC in Baltimore, among other church and non-church donors. The DC Aquatics Club has been a significant donor through its annual Swim for Life benefit. And we typically welcome volunteer BWC clergy who come to preach and serve Holy Communion during our worship services.
Aided by several dozen volunteer staff, we served 107 participants in 2015. Most represented undeserved urban populations, which is consistent with the HIV/AIDS epidemic trends in our region. Included were 51 women, 52 men and 4 transgender persons. Most were 50 to 59 years old, low-income, heterosexual and recently diagnosed. And, while we do get many returnees, most were attending their first or second Quality of Life Retreat. We also typically serve military veterans at most retreats.
In plenary and small-group settings QLR participants choose to talk about living with HIV while caring for friends and families and struggling with finances, relationships, aging minds and bodies, sexuality, self-exposure and other conflicts and crises. In response they receive fresh ideas, information about resources, useful insights from others’ experiences, supportive critiques and most importantly, non-judgmental acceptance. Many later report returning home feeling refreshed and empowered, with new mental clarity and new coping skills. They also return home with a network of people and agencies they can contact to develop support systems and thus enhance the quality and longevity of their lives.
Yoga and meditation, massage therapy, arts and crafts, music, games, recreation, thematic dinners, talent shows, prayer buddies and secret gift exchanges—the many activities, like the many discussions, are meaningful and memorable for each retreat participant. In the process, they learn to challenge habits and addictions and wrestle with difficult emotions like guilt, anger, grief, shame, fear, isolation and loss of self-esteem. As a result many gain a sense of fellowship and camaraderie, safety, confidence, hope and joy for living.
We maintain contact with churches, service agencies and individuals throughout the year; and we communicate through use of social media (including our Facebook page), our section of the Baltimore-Washington Conference’s Web site, and our program book ad and display at the conference’s annual session. We also sponsor community outreach events hosted by local churches; and we participate in mission information events at various churches.
We have—and indeed, we are—a powerful, ongoing story worth sharing, a story of grace, generosity and gratitude. We celebrate each life changed through the experience of Quality of Life Retreats, thanks to the generosity and concern of our supporters in the church and beyond the church. In fact, that is our uplifting theme: “Celebrate Life!” We invite the entire Baltimore-Washington Conference to join us in that imperative clarion call, as we rejoice in God’s gracious gift of life now and life everlasting. Thank you!