It is my pleasure to spotlight a wonderful organization called, Positive PEACHES, Inc. The mission of Positive PEACHES, Inc. is to reduce the number of cases of HIV/AIDS by implementing educational strategies for the prevention of HIV/AIDS, and to educate those who
are HIV positive about treatment approaches and other ways to enhance their quality of life.
The driving force behind Positive PEACHES, Inc. is the commitment of
two co-founders, Mary Lester and Susan Wheeler. They have a combined 23 years of experience providing AIDS education programs to many
diverse groups in and out of the Metro Atlanta area. Ms. Lester provided AIDS education statewide for deaf and hard of hearing groups from 1986 to 1996 for Georgia's Department of Human Resources, Division of Rehabilitation Services. In 1996 she joined the DeKalb County Board of Health where she is currently the HIV/AIDS coordinator. She facilitates the DeKalb HIV forum and serves on the board of Mothers' Voices. Under her leadership, these groups conducted programs for middle and high school students, senior citizens, faith institutions and many other groups. Mary is an affected mother and grandmother. Her son Tim lived with AIDS for over 10 years before passing away in 1996. She has a grandson in Texas who is living with HIV. Mary began facilitating a support group for infected and affected adults in 1994, which is now called Mary's Kids.
In 1990, Susan received an HIV diagnosis while she was pregnant with twins. She later gave birth to twin girls who were also infected and
they subsequently died from the disease. It is because of Susan's personal experiences that she became active in the fight against AIDS. She spends
her time talking with groups, churches and medical professionals about her experiences living with HIV. She also started working with others who were HIV positive, educating them about their disease, so they could learn self-advocacy skills.
Mary and Susan met while participating in an AIDS awareness program
for youth in 1995. They realized they had a lot in common, and in 1999,
they founded Positive PEACHES, Inc. They were subsequently one of only 10 teams selected out of hundreds to attend a seven-day training for the HIV
University conducted by W.O.R.L.D. (Oakland, CA) and World Health Direct (New York, NY). They are the first and only team from Georgia to be selected to receive this training and to bring HIV University back to their
communities. To date, they have successfully completed one HIY University and have received funding for a second HIV University that is
currently being implemented.
The first HIV University was a big success, and after weeks and weeks of hard work and spirited determination, the first students of HIV University have completed their program and received their diplomas. There were eight women completing the University; seven of those received diplomas and one a
certificate of completion. They also had a session on advocacy that was provided by Terri Wilder, LMSW, AIDS Survival Project Operation: Survive! Program Manager. Mary stated, "I have never seen women work so hard and
be so determined to complete a program. These women gave up every Saturday to attend classes from 10:00 - 3:00. They asked questions, they made comments, they took notes and . . . they learned."
The women learned
tips on how to live longer, healthier, more productive
lives. They learned how to give HIV the space it
needed, but that it did not have to consume their
every thought and action. They learned how to deal
with stress and family issues, where to find the
resources they need, about medications and side
effects and alternative treatments. They learned the
importance of good nutrition and practicing safe sex,
they made new lifetime friends, and leaned how to love
and respect themselves. Some of these women had never graduated from high
school, and when they entered the room adorned in
their black caps and gowns, gold banners across their
chests, and their shoulders back and heads held high,
"We all cried," says Ms. Lester. "It was so
beautiful. They were filled with such pride in what
they had accomplished, it was clear to everyone in the
room that these women were going to be a force to be
reckoned with in the future."
The first graduation
was held at the Radisson hotel on LaVista, and it will
be remembered as just fabulous. They had a
beautifully decorated room and a formal graduation,
which included the ladies marching in to Pomp and
Circumstance. They had a wonderful dinner and
they even had music and dancing to follow. They felt
it was an honor to have been a part of the first ever
HIV University program in Georgia, and hope it will
only be the start of
many more to come. Mary and Susan want all the women
to know they say,
"Way to go, ladies!"
Positive PEACHES, Inc. has a choice group of board
members, they are
President Susan Wheeler, Vice President Mary Lester,
and the following
other board members:
- Secretary Linda Messina who is a single
mother, part of the support
group "Mary's Kids" and a recent graduate of the HIV
University. Linda is a
counselor for the Rural Women's Health Project through
South Carolina. She also does public speaking for
- Treasurer Richard Trollinger has tirelessly
lent his creative hand to
developing materials for HIV University. He has lived
with HIV for
years and lost his partner this year to AIDS. He is
also part of the
group "Mary's Kids" and does public speaking for
Positive PEACHES, Inc. He
has lost many friends and believes in this program
because he sees that
educational needs among HIV-positive women are not
- Cathelene Perry recently graduated from HIV
University. She serves on
board and is committed to HIV University because of
the impact it has
her life. Cathelene lost her husband to AIDS in 1994.
She is 53 years
and since her involvement with the HIV University, she
has learned to
her story with others. She has also become an
interviewer for a
project with the University of South Carolina,
into a peer counseling study.
- Cydney T. Parker, Ph.D. is board certified
in areas of child,
adult psychiatry. Dr. Parker is a single mother and
many of the difficulties the students face. As an
is committed to reaching out to others in her
- Linda Moneyham, Ph.D. has been involved in
ongoing research projects
concerning HIV-positive women for eight years. Dr.
Moneyham is a nurse
researcher with expertise in peer-based interventions,
the program staff and will oversee the data analysis
for the program
evaluation. She is currently overseeing a peer
counseling project for
Women in Rural Areas, which is one of the programs for
which she has
funding through grants from the National Institute of
Health and the
University of South Carolina.
Since its inception, Positive PEACHES, Inc. has been
addressing the needs of women with HIV disease.
Because of the context in which
live, women with HIV disease are at particular risk
for poor outcomes.
example, women with HIV disease are more likely than
to experience depression, lack disease management
skills, and have poor
quality of life. A number of factors contribute to
the poor outcomes
women. Women with HIV/AIDS are exposed to numerous
stressors due to the
circumstances under which they live. The majority of
infected women are
of minority status, and single heads of households
with young dependent
children, factors making them socially and
lacking the resources to effectively manage the
disease. They are
not able to access services and are forced to rely on
intermittent services that do not meet their needs.
In addition, they
perceive their disease as having a low priority
relative to their other
For information you may contact Positive PEACHES, Inc.
Post Office Box 298
Conyers, GA 30012.