World AIDS Day 2014: A Celebration of Life at Vida/SIDA

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By Jorge Cestou

Yesterday, December 1st, 2014, the Puerto Rican Cultural Center -Vida/SIDA celebrated World AIDS Day.

The celebration included two events, a Candle Light Vigil to celebrate the lives of individuals living with HIV and honoring the lives of many that have died of AIDS. During this vigil, participants were part of an invocation and celebration of life. Jose Lopez, Executive Director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, welcomed everyone and provided a historical perspective to the event’s space, La Casita de Don Pedro, and of Vida/SIDA. “Vida/SIDA was established in 1988 to deal with HIV stigma and to help those dealing with the disease cope and ease the pain to live healthier, longer lives,” said Lopez

The attendees participated in creating a Community Life Collage to honor people living with HIV and those who died of AIDS. Every participant was also asked to make a commitment and to celebrate life by making a public statement through the creation of symbolic signs that read I COMMIT TO _____ or I CELEBRATE _____. “Living with HIV is no longer a death sentence. People live normal lives. The only thing they have to do is adjustments to their everyday lives like anyone dealing with a chronic disease. Wave your signs and make the your public commitment to end HIV and celebrate Life,” said Jorge Cestou, Director of Programs and Services at Vida/SIDA.

En route to the second event of the night, our Anniversary Fundraising Dinner, the participants walked together in procession to create awareness of HIV in our communities.

The second event of the World AIDS Day Life Celebration was Vida/SIDA’s 26th Anniversary Fundraising Dinner. Sponsors of the event included Chicago Department of Public Health, Illinois Department of Public Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Erie Family Health Center, and Hispanic Housing Development Corp. Supporters were treated to a delicious Puerto Rican meal and a program that included a welcome from Juan Calderon, PRCC COO and Vida/SIDA Director, the 2013 Annual Report presentation by Sandra Candelaria, Director of Women Programs, program remarks by Jorge Cestou, Director of Programs and Services, life testimonies from three HIV positive individuals and closing remarks by
José E. López, PRCC Executive Director. The life testimonies were extremely powerful and to celebrate these individuals’ lives, they were honored with the Vida/SIDA’s Certificate of Resilience. The event was MC’d by Roberto Sanabria, Ed.D., a Vida/SIDA founder and PRCC board member.