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Celebration of Life Welcomes PLWHAs to a Thanksgiving Feast

by Antoinette Weil

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving is still two days away, but for over 700 Massachusetts residents living with HIV and AIDS, along with their friends and family members, the holiday starts tonight with the 23rd Annual Celebration of Life.

The massive Thanksgiving feast, hosted by the newly-merged Boston Living Center and Victory Programs, will take place this evening from 5:30-9 p.m. at the Hynes Convention Center, where up to 1,000 guests and volunteers will come together as a community and share in food and support.

Mayor Thomas Menino was scheduled to speak at the event, but due to continued medical issues and an indefinite hospital stay, he will be unable to attend. An avid supporter of the Boston Living Center, the Mayor has participated in this annual celebration every year, serving meals, giving speeches, emceeing and enjoying the festivities.

"The Celebration of Life event has always been one of my favorite holiday traditions, and is a true reflection of the spirit of the season," said Mayor Menino. "I commend the Boston Living Center on more than 20 years of outstanding service to the City of Boston and its residents."

Speaking on his behalf will be Barbara Ferrer, Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission. HIV and AIDS initiatives have long been a priority of Ferrer's and she is just as enthusiastic for this celebration as the Mayor.

"We run HIV and AIDS programs across the city and support what's being done at the Boston Living Center and other programs around the city, and the wonderful work they do. I think the Celebration of Life embodies the spirit of what the holidays are about," said Ferrer. "Sharing and compassion."

Jim Clerkin, producer of Kiss 108's popular "Matty in the Morning" show will emcee the event, and the night will be filled with entertainment from the Boston Gay Men's Chorus, Lakia Mondale, female illusionist and entertainment extraordinaire, and Woza Moya, an African influenced music group. And let's not forget the real headliner of the evening -- the food! Five hundred pounds of turkey and traditional Thanksgiving sides, along with 120 pies will be filling the bellies of guests.

All of the decorations, technology and food have been generously donated by local businesses and nonprofits, and the service will be provided by a dedicated force of volunteers, making the event 100 percent free to anyone with HIV/AIDS and up to two of their guests of choice.

"It is important to us that members can bring their immediate family or friends," said Jonathan Scott, president and CEO of Victory Programs. "Because they're the ones who really help keep our members supported, stable and healthy."

As Scott notes, in choosing whom to bring as guests, it's "however our members describe their family." And as such the event will be one of all ages, from children to grannies and everyone in between.

Boston Living Center Fosters Wellness for People With HIV/AIDS

The Boston Living Center works toward fostering wellness and support for people living with HIV and AIDS. It was founded in 1989, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, when a group of individuals living with HIV/AIDS decided to organize a Thanksgiving dinner for themselves and others who felt isolated from their families. This support system grew, and so too did the tradition of the Celebration of Life dinner.

Jonathan Scott recalls that in years past there was a sad and somber air to the event. That, in the midst of the uncertainty, anxiety, and fear that came with the AIDS epidemic, you didn't know if the person sitting next to you would make it to next year's holiday.

The Celebration of Life event has endured and flourished for over 20 years, evolving, along with advances in healthcare and support, into a more and more joyous occasion. It has become a true celebration, a cheers to survival and to making the most of this precious gift we call life.

Victory Programs has been around for 38 years and has 17 different programs, which offer support for individuals and families dealing with issues like HIV/AIDS, homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness. On March 1, after frequently working together, the two organizations made it official and the Boston Living Center became part of the Victory Programs. The Boston Living Center maintains its original mission, brand and location, but is now under the umbrella of Victory Programs.

While Victory Programs has long been involved in the Celebrating of Life event, this is the first year that they will be directly involved in the development and administration. They started planning the day after Thanksgiving and the CEO and president has high expectations for the success of the merger and for this year's Thanksgiving feast.

"We're fighting for the same common mission," said Scott. "There is support out there, there is help, and as a community we can move mountains."

This year's Celebration of Life is expected to be the Victory Programs' largest fundraiser and to be just as spectacular as ever.

"The fact that it's been around for twenty-plus years is a true testament to the spirit not only of the Boston Living Center, but of the volunteers and supporters as well," said Ferrer.

I join the Boston Living Center in the hope that all of you will have a happy, healthy Thanksgiving, and that you will remind yourselves to be thankful for the life you have and for the people in it.

To learn more about Victory Programs and the Boston Living Center, visit