Summer has once again settled beautifully in the Grove, and with it a renewed sense of promise for the future. Created by thousands of community volunteers when there seemed so little hope, the Grove is a magnificent representation of the true spirit of community.
For those who experienced the AIDS crisis as I did, our stories are often easily relatable, and the Grove has an obvious draw – we needed and created a place for healing. But I sometimes wonder what the connection is for the younger generations who now make up a majority of the Grove’s regular volunteers. Seth Hammac, one of our board members, was twenty-four when his father Wayne Hammac passed away from AIDS, and I was honored when he recently shared his connection with me:
“In the seventeen years he lived with the virus, my dad taught me to enjoy the small moments in life and appreciate every opportunity I was given. When he died, his friend Ken had his name engraved in a place called the National AIDS Memorial Grove – in the Circle of Friends. Until this act of kindness, I knew nothing about the Grove. Two years later, I decided it was time to visit, and I volunteered at a monthly workday. That was nine years ago.
My role at the Grove has since evolved, and my connections to this special community have deepened. Increasing my involvement felt natural, and I found myself acting as a Grove ambassador to a new generation who never knew anybody who died of AIDS. I shared my father’s story and my own to people less directly impacted by AIDS, or not at all. As my role has evolved from regular volunteer to workday leader and ambassador to a member of the board, so too has my personal journey, and my connection to the Grove and its profound healing nature.
I realize today that I sit in a unique place because, for most of my childhood, I lived with fear knowing that my father would die from AIDS. But my focus has shifted, and that fear has turned to hope – hope for a cure. Now the Grove is a place where I am a part of a larger community – all of us somehow touched by AIDS. Today I visit the Grove frequently to volunteer, remember my dad, and connect with my community.”
For nearly a quarter of a century, the Grove has served as a repository for countless stories such as Seth’s – stories that inspire, and speak to profound courage and love. And while today the Grove’s most powerful offering may be that of healing for those who lost so much to the epidemic, it is the myriad stories that will move future generations to effect positive social changes in their lifetimes – your stories, our stories.
Like Seth, you are part of this community. I ask for your support today to ensure that the Grove will honor lost loved ones and those who survived in perpetuity, and will speak to future generations about the power of love, hope and compassion.
John B. Cunningham