We talked about the power of a personal story, fully aware that sometimes the story can sound self-centered, and we agreed that the intention makes the difference. I am hopeful her presentation will include the story of her journey as it is compelling and would make a positive difference to women who hear it.Over the years the story of my brother’s life and death with AIDS has become part of my own story. As the 30-year mark since the emergence of AIDS as a major disease was observed in June, memories of that period come to mind. The primary memory is that of shock. AIDS was a stunning discovery that shook families, church communities and society in general. Reactions to the diagnosis were varied, always full of anguish. Most of the people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS were embraced by family; however, there were tragic incidents of rejection. In retrospect this rejection might have been the consequence of denial, as the disease was often the first acknowledgment that the person diagnosed with HIV/AIDS was homosexual. In the early days the virus manifested itself overwhelmingly in the gay community although there were cases of HIV infection in intravenous drug users and for a short time it posed a risk for those who had blood transfusions. In some cases, it certainly is fair to say that revelation of the homosexuality dwarfed the diagnosis of AIDS. In the 30 years since the dawn of the AIDS, we have learned much about the virus and sexual orientation.At the height of the AIDS epidemic in the United States there was confusion, fear, misinformation and anger about both the virus and the issue of homosexuality. The President of the United States at the time, Ronald Reagan, ignored it, refusing government money for research. Pat Buchanan, a major political figure, advisor to the Moral Majority and a man who proclaimed his Catholicism, declared, “AIDS is nature’s retribution for violating the laws of nature.” And at the first AIDS Ministry Outreach liturgy for individuals and families affected by AIDS, the word “AIDS” was not used. All of these responses speak to the fear and confusion of the era.There is much to be chronicled about the early years of the AIDS epidemic in America, much of it painful. However, there are also stories of individuals, families, church communities and other groups who joined their resources determined to help ease what was becoming a cultural divide between care and compassion and fear and judgment. The Catholic Church of Los Angeles, in my experience, offered a refuge for many struggling to understand the phenomenon. A grass roots effort to offer support, prayers and a helping hand to individuals and families living with HIV/AIDS emerged. In 1987, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles partnered with seven local Catholic hospitals to start the Serra Project, an organization dedicated to providing shelter and care to anyone living with HIV/AIDS. In those early years, much of the work that took place through the Serra Project was hospice work, given the high death toll from the disease.AIDS is still with us but people in the United States who contract the virus are living longer due to better medications and greater understanding of the disease. However, there are still those infected with HIV who need care and shelter. The disease is present throughout the general population with the incidence of infection rising rapidly in women, many who have children. With the collapse of the economy the numbers of those infected have risen among those who are out of work, homeless and facing all the obstacles that poverty brings to healthcare. Among many in society, the stigma of HIV/AIDS remains as does the fear. Responding to this the Serra Project merged with Aid for AIDS in 2009 which allowed emergency funds to be readily available for housing, transportation and medications not covered by insurance, and allowed a larger spectrum and continuum of care of people with HIV/AIDS and their families.My brother’s story is that of a gay man who was surrounded by family and friends from diagnosis to death. He was one of the lucky ones, if that can be said about anyone facing such devastating circumstances. He taught us a great deal about compassion and moved many of us out of our comfort zones into areas we never dreamed of going. I share his story so that maybe others will share theirs. For just as my friend and I discussed, it is our shared experiences that often bring comfort and generate action.Anne Hansen is a member of the Camarillo Catholic community. Her e-mail address is  HYPERLINK "mailto:[email protected]" [email protected].{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2011/0701/famtime/{/gallery}