How volunteering can improve your outlook while living with HIV

Volunteering - positive peers

By: Jennifer McMillen Smith, MSSA, LISW-S, Division of Infectious Disease and medically reviewed by Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center

Living with HIV, especially when you’re newly diagnosed, can sometimes feel isolating. The ignorance and stigma surrounding this pesky little infection can drive people away from socializing for fear that they might be rejected.

Well honey, if someone rejects you simply for living with a chronic illness, then their booty wasn’t worth befriending anyways. Don’t let your heart be heavy.

Although HIV can sometimes feel like a burden on your soul, you are not trapped under its weight. You can shake it off quicker than Taylor shakes off her haters (get it, gurl!).

One of the best ways we know to lighten your load is to be of service to others.

Volunteering - positive peers

Learn from the people who help people

You know those people leading the support groups and organizing the marches for people living with HIV? And what about the folks at the Salvation Army serving breakfast to those who have nowhere else to go?

What keeps the good-deed-doers going?

You gotta wonder: They can march a thousand miles, but it won’t cure HIV. Volunteers can serve a thousand meals to the homeless, but hunger and homelessness will still be around.

They keep at it anyway for two reasons:

  1. It’s the right thing to do.
  2. It does make a difference, in time.
  3. It makes them feel better about themselves.

Giving is a two-way street of compassion and fulfillment. You can volunteer to your heart's content and still feel as though you’re not giving as much as you getting back.

Volunteering - positive peers

What you get from giving of yourself

Even if everything in life is going your way, you’ll have days where your mood is down there in the dirt. Helping other people helps you stand up, dust yourself off, and get on with life.

Everyone feels depressed, anxious, or just fed up now and then. Sooner or later, you may feel that way too.

If you want to feel better, follow the example of the people already doing good in the world. Seeing gratitude in the faces of the people you help feels like the sun coming out from behind the clouds.

And you get more than a shot of feel-good from helping people. You also get a sense purpose from knowing how to take action to change your world for the better.

Service also gives you perspective. It helps you understand that you don’t have to settle for whatever life hands you. You can change your world — and, by extension, your life.

Money and fame can’t buy that feeling. You only get it when you turn your positive thoughts into action.


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A few ideas for helping people in your community

Nonprofit organizations in the Cleveland metro area always need volunteers to help out. For instance:

For a much bigger list of volunteer opportunities, including popular events and races, check out this volunteer page at

Volunteering - positive peers

Help out with local HIV-related events

Events raising awareness about HIV happen all the time. These are great opportunities for people with HIV to raise morale and inspire each other to live better lives.

(These are all the HIV events we’ve written about on Positive Peers.)

These events need people with all sorts of skills: writing, printing, publishing, lobbying public officials, and so on. And they also need people to organize the events, help people enter, and provide security on the day of the event.

Volunteering - positive peers

Start an HIV support group

This isn’t as complicated as it sounds. All you need is a place where people can meet and a way to schedule and make sure everybody knows about it. If you’re a member of our Positive Peers app, you could even start your own support group on there!

HIV support groups are awesome because they allow so people to share their experiences, thoughts, and support with one another as we face the ups and downs of life.

If you’re already in a support group, but want to start your own, ask the leader or the social worker advising your group how to do it. They’ll be glad to help you out.


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Positive Peers is made possible through a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration, HIV/AIDS Bureau Special Projects of National Significance (SPNS) Grant to The MetroHealth System. Click here for more information about the SPNS grant initiative.
Positive Peers is a private app for young people living with HIV. Learn how you can earn rewards for your participation.