Messages From the Co-Chairs
My name is Heather Arculeo, and I am a prior United States Marine Corps Firefighter that was diagnosed as HIV+ in 2007. I was 25 years old, married, and a mother of two beautiful girls, so I did not understand how this diagnosis was possible. Growing up in a small farm town, never experimenting with drugs, and being abstinent until I met my first husband was far from the stereotype I had toward individuals that were HIV+. I lacked knowledge and understanding of what HIV was, or how it affected individuals. I was immediately scheduled to attend a two-week class at the Naval Hospital in Balboa that would give me insight into my new diagnosis.
When I arrived at the Naval Hospital I was escorted into a room where other military members, who had recently been diagnosed, were seated. I noticed that I was the only female, and eventually learned that I was the only heterosexual individual, too. I felt alone, isolated, humiliated, confused, but most of all scared. After the course I went back to my usual life, pretending that my diagnosis did not exist. I continued feeling detached from everything around me, and as if I was the only woman to ever be diagnosed as HIV+. I resumed feeling this way even after I decided to leave the military.
I stayed lonely and disconnected because I was still the only female patient getting treatment at the Veterans Hospital in La Jolla for HIV. It was not until I saw a Christie’s Place flyer, describing a women’s retreat for women living with HIV and AIDS, that I became aware of the possibility that I may not be alone in this journey. A weight was lifted off of my shoulders, and immediately a sense of belonging overcame me. I signed up for the retreat, holding a little apprehension, but when I arrived at Christie’s Place I knew I had found the place where I did belong. Christie’s Place not only offered me services, but a sense of belonging, openness, acceptance, compassion, and understanding. I knew that I needed to be in a place like this, and vowed to help others not feel trapped and isolated as I once did.
I am now a Retention in Care Peer Navigator at Christie’s Place and have recently stepped into the Co-Chair position for PWN-USA-San Diego. I look forward to organizing, connecting, and empowering HIV+ women, including transgender women, by educating them on every aspect of policy and decision-making to better enhance the quality of positive women’s lives.
Jay was diagnosed with AIDS in 1996. Since that day she has felt the need to inform people, especially women, of the risk of contracting HIV, and the importance of testing. Jay is currently employed at Christie’s Place as an HIV Peer Navigator.
Jay became involved with PWN-USA in 2007, participating in the LOTUS Advocacy Training.
In 2013, Jay took on a more active role in PWN-USA, in the San Diego region. It is her goal to bring awareness to women-specific issues, and mobilize HIV+ women in an effort to create change.
Contact Jay: 760 224-9797; email@example.com