25 years of service: strength, survival and devotion

Published 07, Dec, 2012

John Henry Rombough-Davie wanted to commemorate his agency’s 25th anniversary World AIDS Day Event with a special post with contributions from staff and volunteers whose heart and souls went in to making it a success.

Dec 02,  2012  - The AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo Area  (ACCKWA) had a wonderful turnout last night at the Clay and Glass Gallery in Waterloo. It's a fabulous space which hosted not only our World AIDS Day Candleight Vigil, but also an Art Auction. The evening was one of elegant attire mixed with catering, live music as well as a display of the agency’s Quilt from 2003. We added to the beauty of this with a 2012 Quilt to mark not only 25 years of service, but also a history of hope and resiliency.

I’ve gathered a few thoughts on the evening from people who were able to contribute.


Simply what a beautiful evening!

B -- By walking in the front door of the Clay and Glass, being greeted and welcomed set the tone for a magical evening -- BEAUTIFUL

E -- Enjoyed by all -- BEAUTIFUL

A -- ACCKWA staff, Dana and volunteers created a memorable event for all of us -- BEAUTIFUL

U -- Unique silent auction that was of a high standard -- BEAUTIFUL

T -- The technique of the musicians, the talent of the vocalists and the tapas presentation was pleasing to the senses  --  BEAUTIFUL

I --  Icing on the cupcakes after the vigil was creatively done and delicioius! -- BEAUTIFUL

F -- Factual information about the past 25 years of ACCKWA was certainly interesting and uplifting -- BEAUTIFUL

U -- Understanding the commitment, love and dedication of all of the volunteers and staff of ACCKWA, during the vigil, will never be forgotten -- BEAUTIFUL

L -- Listening to and reading the personal stories about HIV and AIDS was very special to all of us – BEAUTIFUL

Deardra Leslie  -  Community Partner / Patron


How interesting it was to approach a new place for World AIDS Day. A mix of art, music, friends, and colleagues joined in this year’s event. It was a splendid evening all. Seeing the mix of friends, staff, former and current board members along with clients & volunteers added to the activities and for me was quite moving. Capturing the celebration of 25 years, for me, it was an added bonus to see people from before ACCKWA was incorporated attending this event. The buzz in the room about moving forward with resiliency was a great feeling as we came together to remember those who are no longer with us. I started to think about people from the past and how they would feel if they could see the work that we accomplished as an agency today.  I thought about one fellow who had a very large impact on my life a few years ago, how much he taught me and how he empowered me to never give up hope and to keep marching on, no matter how tough some days would seem. As I look back, I do feel like much has been achieved although I never seem sure how to measure it, personally or professionally. I know the personal part well, and it’s that, that makes me move forward to help whenever and wherever I can.

Seeing the quilt again still has much the same impact today as the first time. I was excited to see the unveiling of the new quilt (below)which I hope will give people a sense of what it is locally, when the larger quilt is not available. Maybe in 2013 we should get the community to bring the Canadian AIDS quilt to the region as it will be ten years since it has been. It is such a powerful visual thing to see and the community needs to be reminded that the issues and the disease are still relevant today. The stories presented on the easels were riveting, and generated a lot of interest.  As the evening’s program headed towards the end, a sense of sadness overwhelmed me, as here I was again remembering those who have gone before their time. I started to watch and listen to the buzz in the room, about what does tomorrow bring. Then I realized that I too needed to reflect on what we have done and what will happen because we care and are motivated by others around us. Resiliency abounds here and will carry us forward into the years ahead. Thank you to everyone who made this night,one to remember.

Dave Watt – Former board member, volunteer and lifetime member


The vigil was really good this year; the idea of having the gala/auction prior really brought a variety of people who might not have attended the vigil alone.  Awesome!!!

Gail P – Volunteer – ACCKWA


As a staff member for the past seven years, World AIDS Day seemed magical.  It showed all the great work that this agency has done in the past 25 years, not only supporting those living with HIV but also  education and outreach efforts.  To see stories of people living with HIV in the Fragments of Me exhibit, right through to those who stood before the audience at the vigil, sharing words, tears and showing their incredible resiliency. I am proud to be a small piece of all the incredible effort!

Lynn Cashubec - PHA Capacity Development Coordinator – ACCKWA


I was honoured and humbled to see so many ACCKWA supporters in one room.  And I was deeply grateful to the people living with HIV in our community who told their stories in the Fragments of Me exhibit on display.  One guest, while reading one of the placards, turned to me and asked "You mean this is here, in our community?" And I remembered then that this is exactly how we teach each other and how we make change in our community:  by telling our stories. And the night was full of our stories. From ACCKWA's earliest days, to the story of a little boy with a very big heart, to the implicit stories sewn into the two quilts. Wherever you turned someone was sharing a bit of themselves with anyone who'd listen (and we were all listening).  It was one of the most beautiful and rewarding moments that I can remember in my time with ACCKWA.

Colby Marcellus – Executive Director – ACCKWA


This was the first time I have attended a World AIDS Day vigil, although I have taken part in many December 1 fundraisers. Often with the day-to-day routine of the prevention work that I do it is rare to have the opportunity to stop and take time to fully absorb the impact that HIV/AIDS has had on people in my own community, and to let it sink in, past the professional  work role and touching the personal. The vigil, however, was able to do that to me. Tears ran down my face as I heard the choir from the University of Waterloo sing during the candle-lighting, and I always try my hardest not to cry in public. Seeing the unveiling of the new quiltwhich myself, staff, volunteers and our clients had made patches for, and others still worked tirelessly on sewing together, was also extremely emotional. I feel proud and honoured to have been part of making that which symbolizes the immense amount of grief, loss, hope and resiliency seen within our own little corner of the world. 

Colin Boucher – Gay Men’s Sexual Health Coordinator – ACCKWA


From an African and Caribbean perspective, I was highly touched to see support from members of the community especially from my community who also happen to be long standing members of the Waterloo community. The Chairs of Black Women Congress formerly with the Waterloo school board, expressed their joy of being part of the vigil. It was also very humbling to see how the Fragments of Me exhibit touched a lot of people and the desire expressed to see the exhibition tour Waterloo and Cambridge as it has toured Kitchener and Guelph.

Mercy Gichuki – African & Caribbean Strategist Worker – ACCKWA (right, with MP Peter Braid)


This year our evening began with an extraordinary art exhibition and silent auction. The gallery walls were lined with art work and personal stories of hope and resilience by people living with HIV. The Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery was the perfect venue to celebrate ACCKWA’s 25th year of serving our community. The evening was spectacular. It was a privilege to be a part of such a special evening and it is my honor to share this poem with you now.

We Solemnly Declare    by Chris White

It’s Winter in Paris, 1994

The Tower Is Lit

The Sky Dark No More

Delegates Challenge, Talk

And Take the Floor

Looking For Answers

To Make HIV No More

We Start With Support

And Encouragement Too

Let’s Listen To PHA’s

They’ll Know What to Do

Through Greater Involvement

No Stigma, Just Grace

We Will All Work Together

And Put HIV in Its Place

Through Education

And Lots Of Skill Building To

Working Together

We’ll See All Things Through

The Fight Is Not Over

It Begins With You

We Sign This Declaration

To Make This Come True 

Chris White – Gay Men’s Sexual Health Worker – ACCKWA


Never having been to a World's Aid Day Vigil, I must say the whole experience brought me one step closer to understanding the impact of HIV/AIDS on many in our community. This evening allowed individuals to reflect, cry, laugh and console each other in a non-judgmental and safe environment. I felt truly honoured to be a part of this night. Since starting with ACCKWA not all that long ago, I have felt welcomed by the PHA community and staff and this evening was no different. We are blessed to have many in our community who care and with time this community can only get larger as the stories told by PHAs and more individuals attending such events as the Vigil reach more and more people.

Cathy Read-Wilson – Support Co-ordinator – ACCKWA


To say it was a mind-blowing experience would be an understatement. Everyone came together for the common cause. Employees,volunteers and people living with HIV were one cohesive unit. There are no levels at ACCKWA: we are all even and there is no room for egos.  That alone made me so proud of ACCKWA but the event was really like no other I experienced.  Everyone involved achieved so much. I do not know the amount of funds raised but the feel in that room was amazing, full of light and love and hope. The talent was amazing.  Everyone should be so proud. I am even more proud that I am part of such a passionate and compassionate team. I said that I may be hanging up my volunteer hat but after last night there is no way I can step away. It’s in my heart and soul now.  It was an experience I will never forget. Thanks so much to all and for inviting me to be a small part of a great event.

PENNIES FOR AIDS  (writen and read by Joe Lethbridge)

Yesterday I received a donation that to some would not be considered  suitable to sell in the on-line auction at ACCKWA. It’s not just the gift he gave, or the time he gave making it. It is a gift of the simplest message of care, he knows very little of AIDS at his age. He knows the most basic…’AIDS hurts people bad’ and to know that much ‘little guy’ delivered a message - that everyone is capable of the capacity to care.

After meeting him and talking to him, I cried like a baby out of his view.

Yesterday in my blog I asked you how much 15 pennies were worth. And today I share this encounter with you.

"Hey, you are Joe, right?" I turned around to see ‘little guy’, no older than six years, who was standing beside a tall slender man that I know I should remember, but I can't.  The man stretched his hand out and shook mine as ‘little guy’ also reached out to shake my hand.  The man spoke his name and then I remembered him.

"This is my son ‘little guy’. My friend has you on facebook and he suggested I check out a link to an auction page of yours dealing with AIDS. As ‘little guy’ and I looked at the postings he asked me what the red ribbon was for so I explained what it represented the simplest way I could."

‘Little guy’ looked back and forth from his Dad to me.  It looked like he had something to say, "Daddy! Give it to Joe” he said, almost impatiently.  "You made it ‘little guy’ so you give it to him”, his dad said.

The ‘little guy’ turned shy and hid behind his dad, while Dad handed me a brown paper bag folded up. It was heavy! A piece of yarn glued to it as a handle. There was a ribbon, not made of silk or satin or cotton or denim.  It was a ribbon made of pennies that ‘little guy’ had glued on and painted red.  I know I wrecked the pennies cuz I painted them, but now it's a picture" he said, still standing behind his dad, snuggling his leg.

Indeed it was a picture!  ‘Little guy’ made a red ribbon work of art just because he understood and cared enough that ‘AIDS hurts people bad’. "But you can't open the bag Joe," ‘little guy’ added.  He had glued the bag shut. "If you open it you will let ‘them’ out and the picture bag won't work.  I made wishes and put ‘them’ in the bag so people get better and no one will get sick from AIDS."

I had to take a huge breath to hold in all my built up emotion as we continued to chat a bit. ‘Little guy’ told me that he had more pennies at home that he was gonna give to the AIDS people.  Another deep breath as I thanked him and his dad and they headed off on their way home.

Dad, looking down at his son who was smiling and skipping off happily; the way little kids do. “I think Joe liked it ‘little guy’”, I heard Dad say.

I headed in the other direction, tears in the corner of my eyes, loving the red painted pennies ribbon.

I took one more deep breathe as I sat by the fountain and the tears did flow.

A simple act of care,

Pennies painted,

Meant to share,

A young boy’s gift,

Not just for me,

A gift of compassion,

For others to see.

15 pennies painted red - far surpasses the value of fifteen cents

Thank you ‘little guy’, your "little something" means so much to me and I am sure it will to many others.

I think it also shows that a well-recognized person need not be the one to make change, and between you and I, ‘little guy’ is affected closely by AIDS. This makes this story and him all the more sweet.

We planned for ‘little guy’, his dad and I to have a wrap them up party, sitting down together to wrap all the pennies he collected so they could be brought into ACCKWA. This is how it went . . 

‘Little guy’ and his dad came in with a freezer bag full of pennies and we sat down at the café.  As he started counting them he reached into his Disney ‘Cars’ jacket and pulled out a few more pennies that he found on the street. "I picked these up on the way here and I gotta go to school soon Joe.” We finished counting 127 more pennies in the bag, plus the seven he picked up on his way to the café. 

A kid of six gives 368 pennies, $3.68 plus the painted red penny wish bag = a grand total of PRICELESS! He didn't have too, he chose to. He said "I listen to my heart."

Joe Lethbridge – Volunteer – ACCKWA


I wanted to let you know how thoroughly impressed I was with the World AIDS Day Art/Silent Auction and Vigil on Dec 1st.  The whole evening was very special, in fact quite magical.  The event came off as a highly organized and professional affair. The Clay and Glass Museum was the perfect setting and added to the wonderful atmosphere ACCKWA’s staff and volunteers so carefully created for this event. The vigil was so very moving and a real tribute to celebrating 25 years of dealing with the changing needs of HIV/AIDS in Waterloo Region and gave a touching and memorable tribute to how our past, present and future has impacted our agency and our community. The amount of planning and attention to detail shone through brightly, resulting in a highly polished memorable event.

As a long time volunteer of ACCKWA I was extremely proud to be in attendance at such a special evening. The night was made that much more special to have been able to be connect with special people who had made significant contributions to ACCKWA in the past. Josee Duffhues who was the manager of the Public Health AIDS Program in 1987, who worked and volunteered with the founding members of ACCKWA to secure funding for our agency and was on the Board of ACCKWA when we opened our first location at 886 Queen St in Kitchener. I truly believe it was because of Josee’s passion for this cause and her amazing ability to establish a strong partnership with the founding board members and an amazing working relationship with ACCKWA’s 1st Executive Director (Larry MacLean) that the incredible relationship between an ASO and Public Health was formed. Dianne Redding has been a Public Health Nurse involved in ACCKWA since the very first AIDS Awareness Week and first World AIDS Day.  Dianne had been instrumental in forging strong relationships with the first and subsequent education and support coordinators to work in partnership on initiatives from the very early years forward. It was also wonderful to link up with the past Support Coordinator (from the early 1990s – Linda Juodvalkis), as well as several past board members.  Finally to see the long time PHAs who have helped to shape our agency to ensure we are addressing the changing needs of people living with HIV/AIDS and all the new volunteers paying tribute to our agency either through words or actions, was so touching. ACCKWA is a very special organization, with very passionate and hardworking staff, fabulous volunteers that share a wonderful solidarity and a strong commitment to our agency.  We are very fortunate to have this agency in our community. Keep up the most excellent work!

Gretchen Sangster – Volunteer – who has volunteered longer than anyone ever has at ACCKWA.


Hello ACCKWA!!!

Yes! You and your board, You and your ability, You and your possibility,

You and your responsibility. Yes, I call you, You and your people,

Staff and clients, Friends and supporters, To toss the win, 25 years!

In support with care, Hope and love. Both heart and brain, Feed hands and feet,

Where happiness is seen to flow!

Not long ago, I realized your elasticity, Moving up, moving down,

Moving left moving right.

I saw you stretching and stretching, Reaching the higher and the highest branch.

Despite the source, you tried your best, to stick on your goal. Yes you! I am right.

Your eyes, not round, Give a shape to your brain, Or design your heart.

What is known and seen, Everything is stretching, You‘re stretching and stretching.

To reach fruits, several fruits, To blend the pills or just meds, Not to cure, not to kill, To eradicate the “killer “from the roots!

Built on diversity, Not woven by stigma.

Stood on empty pocket, Volunteers are awake!

And ”good Samaritans”. Are there everywhere!

Keep stretching, ACCKWA! 

Anastasie M. – volunteer.


I’m so proud of where we are today, the people we call family, and the internal courage we have all developed.  Speaking for the long term survivors of ACCKWA, many of us would not have believed that we would be standing here today, being diagnosed HIV+ twenty and more years ago.  The connections we’ve opened ourselves up to have helped shape our existence and the fight that we share shows just how resilient we are.

I’d also like to thank every one who did what they had to do to create not only a purpose to continue moving forward, but to continue showing those loved ones for whom we gather at this time every year that their lives were just as important as our own.   Thank you.

And last but not least, a very extensive heart-warming thanks to Dana Christiaen (above), our Women’s Prevention Worker, for her persistence to fulfill a vision of perfection in organizing the event.

I want to also thank you  – the reader – as well as all of you who were able to express yourselves with utmost dignity and passion for something you truly believe in.

John Henry Rombough-Davie – 15 yr client and volunteer, ACCKWA .