Florida is home to 10 percent of all HIV infections in the United States, with Miami having the most new infections of any city in the country.
Right now, the largest church dedicated to serving the LGBT community in Palm Beach County is launching a brand new network for long-term survivors of HIV to let them know they are not alone.
Wednesday marked National HIV Testing Day, and June is also HIV Awareness month.
Since the epidemic began, around 35 million people have died from this virus around the world.
That's why the Metropolitan Community Church of the Palm Beaches is announcing their new HIV long-term survivor network. The goal is to tear down the stigmas and help survivors connect with one another.
“I’ve seen the worst of the worst in terms of the epidemic," said Chris Lacharite, who has lived as an HIV survivor for the past 24 years. “I witnessed the loss of many people. My partner, my best friend, died within six months of each other. And a whole network of friend died within the course of a decade."
He’s also a nurse, so he understands the struggles other long-term survivors have of feeling left behind.
“Where there is such an unimaginable grief that there’s just no resolution for it," he said.
That’s why he is spearheading a new local network to find other survivors.
“Free from judgment, where everybody knows what everybody else has gone through. Where you don’t have to explain yourself," he said.
But since the group recently launched, outreach has been one of the biggest challenges.
“We are still dealing with a lot of stigma, which keeps people isolated," said Lacharite.
It’s a term called "Aids Survivors Syndrome" which is similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“Isolation, withdrawal, depression, anxiety," said Lacharite.
The network provides emotional and physical therapy classes and social activities.
“So that’s our primary goal, is to bring people out of isolation and bring people together," said Lacharite.
And with South Florida leading the nation in new HIV infections, the battle is still ongoing.
“That tells us that it’s far from being over," said Lacharite.
The network just has to find those survivors.
"Bring people together to learn from each other, to thrive with each other, and to love each other," he said.
The network is planning several upcoming events, including a pool party this weekend. They're also planning new classes and are in need of a yoga instructor.
If you want to connect with MCCPB’s new Long-Term HIV Survivors Network, please call 561-775-5900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.