Quality of Life Retreats - 2012 Annual Report
Quality of Life Retreats 2012 Annual Report
Quality of Life Retreats (QLR), a Grow Missions HIV/AIDS ministry of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, continues to offer people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) opportunities to benefit from inspirational and educational experiences in community 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. In the process they develop and renew relationships with others, with themselves and with God or the eternal source of their spiritual strength.
The Rev. Terri Rae Chattin led other conference members in birthing this life-saving ministry in 1988 in response to the alienation, rejection, suffering and loss of life experienced by people with HIV/AIDS. As of 2012, we have hosted more than 90 retreats serving more than 3,500 people with HIV and AIDS. Our four-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, renewal and relationships, 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. Our small-group dialogues and exercises provide important insights, community-building, networking and morale-lifting activities. Participants also benefit from optional gatherings for worship and spiritual nurture, 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 specialist in HIV and a spiritual director.
QLR also offers a viable model for responsive, compassionate involvement by the religious community in the lives of PLWHA. Our program is ecumenical and interfaith and is open to individuals of all beliefs. Churches and individuals—lay and clergy—who participate in 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—Sandy Ferguson, Terri Rae Chattin and Tonia Bennett in particular—and by local church leaders such as our outgoing board vice-president Loretta Anders of Linden-Linthicum UMC and the Rev. Nancy Green who annually leads a Quality of Life retreat.
In 2012, as is our custom, we sponsored four retreats in February, June, September and December, using various sites near Baltimore, Washington and the West Virginia panhandle to increase participation from those areas. Our hosting sites were the Washington D.C. Retreat House (a Catholic institution), the YMCA’s Camp Letts Retreat Center near Annapolis and the conference’s own Manidokan Camp and Retreat Center. We partnered with Glen Burnie UMC, which provided transportation on their church bus for Baltimore City participants, and we received special mission funding from Linden-Linthicum and Foundry UMCs, among other church donors. We also typically benefit from volunteer UMC clergy to preach and serve Holy Communion during our final-day worship services.
We served 113 participants in 2012 with the help of 35 volunteer staff members, including several from UM churches. Regretfully, we were unable to serve 21 people on our waiting list due to our limited budget. Our demographics indicate a focus on underserved urban populations consistent with the HIV/AIDS epidemic trends in our region. Included were 59 men, 39 women and eight transgender persons. Ages ranged from 3 people under 30, 16 people who were 30-39, 41 people who were 40-49, 31 people who were 50-59 and 15 people who were 60-69. Eighty-nine participants identified themselves as African American, 52 as heterosexual, 38 as homosexual (MSM), 9 as bisexual and one as a person born with HIV in the early days of the pandemic. We also served small numbers of Hispanic, Caucasian and Native American participants; and we served military veterans and provided language interpreters when needed.
In plenary and small-group settings 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 widely through mailings, occasional articles in the UM Connection newspaper, social media channels (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 our own annual community outreach events hosted by local churches—such as Simpson-Hamline UMC in Washington in 2011 and Grace UMC in Baltimore in 2012—and we participate in mission information events at various churches—such as Glen Burnie and Linden-Linthicum UMCs in 2012.
In 2013 Quality of Life Retreats will be 25 years young, and we will celebrate with special conference-wide promotion and several planned activities. We’ll also launch our first online and print newsletter, which we hope many church leaders will receive and share with their congregations. We have—indeed, we are—a powerful, grace-filled, ongoing story worth sharing, as 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. In fact, that is our uplifting theme which we will broadcast widely in this our 25th year: “Celebrate Life!” We invite the entire Baltimore-Washington Conference to join us in that imperative clarion call, as we rejoice in God’s gracious gifts of life now and life everlasting.