Life+ Weekend: Cultivating Community Connections Despite COVID-19

On September 18-19, people living with HIV met at a five scenic sites across Ohio to renew their bonds of community and friendship. The Life+ Weekend was a first-of-its-kind event that provided an opportunity to connect with old and new friends despite the current public health emergency in face-to-face socially distanced settings. 

As Equitas Health Prevention Education Manager Matthew Ellwood told us, “This was an overnight retreat for people living with HIV/AIDS, particularly long-time survivors or anyone age 40 and above Five Ohio state parks hosted around 10 guests each for two days of integrated holistic wellness activities. Originally planned for March 2020, COVID-19 pushed the event back to September, so we could ensure social distancing and proper precautions were considered for the safety of attendees. This event was designed to ensure people living with HIV had the opportunity to spend time with each other and enjoy wellness activities and a break from everyday life, and the Life+ Retreat originated as 50+ Wellness which started Spring 2019. It was transformed this year to include Long-term survivors and anyone living with HIV over 40 years old.” 

Equitas Health Medical Case Manager Monica J. Baytos added, “We had meaningful and thought provoking discussions on HIV and how it affects those who have it for a long time. We were able to listen to each other’s point of view even when we might not agree. Everyone was respectful of whatever topic we were on and felt able to ask questions if they needed further explanation from the person speaking. We discussed case management styles and how the differences in case management in each area directly affects individuals and impacts them from receiving services. A common thread was that sometimes case managers do too much for clients and then other times needed services as connection to insurance or housing services were not being done or being applied by unfair methods. We discussed HIV stigma and how it is still present in our society in 2020 even by medical professionals and employers. Most walked away saying it was time well spent and they would do it again, only wishing our time together could be one day longer. We really liked the accommodations and setting. It also led to the success of the event.” 

Equitas Health Institute Lead Trainer Ramona Peel said, “I was with a small group of participants at Maumee Bay State Park, and what really struck me was how happy everyone was to see each other face-to-face after months of doing group meetings via videoconferencing. It felt like a really cathartic and restorative experience. We also played bingo, which I had never done before. It was tons of fun. Our participants liked the smaller, more intimate meetings we had this year based on the realities of the ongoing pandemic.” 

Registering to vote was a major point of emphasis at every site, as well as the importance of having a plan for voting this year. If you’d like to register to vote in Ohio, the deadline is October 5, and you can register here: In addition, we gave all participants information about applying for scholarships to attend the Transforming Care Conference. 

TCC is completely virtual this year, and sessions will take place Oct 14-16 in afternoon time slots. Recordings of all the sessions will be available for 30 days after the event so registrants can view at their leisure if they are not able to log-in live. We have an abundance of general registration scholarships available, and for folks who want CEs, we have a limited number of scholarships available. People Living with HIV are given top priority. The scholarship application can be found here:

Details about the conference can be found at

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