“We work hard to create a better world for our community,” says Luciano Reberte, LEAD Program Coordinator of the Latino Commission on AIDS in New York, NY. However, when he learned four years ago that the site that formerly hosted their retreats would no longer be an option, he was concerned that a narrow budget would hold them back from finding an appropriate location. “The process of finding another place for our retreat was highly stressful for me. I recognize that our budget is very tight and limited,” says Luciano. “We are a small non-profit organization and as Latinos working in HIV prevention and LGBT wellness, we are a minority inside another minority, which makes it harder.”
Originally from Argentina, Luciano says that his work for the Latino Commission on AIDS has given him the opportunity to help, support, and empower others that face the same obstacles he has faced in his life, from language barriers to doors being closed as a result of various forms of discrimination.
“We take youth and adults on these retreats to help them overcome issues with self-esteem, and to identify the patterns of internalizing systems of oppression,” says Leandro Rodriguez, Program Director at the organization. “Afterward, they’re able to make healthier decisions in their life to become better leaders through their own empowerment.”
The retreats provide vital time for participants to experience the natural world, but they also have a very set curriculum with specific educational goals. Once group dynamics have been established, smaller groups are created for shared experiential exercises. “We want them to engage in visualization techniques to discuss things in the past that didn’t go well and how they can change their responses in the future,” explains Leandro. “Really confronting what they’re afraid of and doing an exercise that pushes them past the limitations they thought they had helps them to stand up for themselves and take care of their health and well-being and also advocate for others.”
When asked about the goal of the retreat, Leandro gives a simple but crucial answer: “better health outcomes.” He tells us, “If people were never aware of their HIV status, they feel confident to go home and get tested and also bring other people into the center and get them to come to the retreats.” The Latino Commission on AIDS has brought four groups of about 40 individuals each to Frost Valley since 2017, and they are eager to bring more as interest in participation continues to increase, creating exponential impact of those critical health outcomes. “We ask clients not to talk about the specific events of the retreats, but they come home and their friends see a change in them and they want to go, too.”
Understanding the power of these retreats without experiencing them firsthand is virtually impossible, which is why the Latino Commission on AIDS relies on the results to speak for themselves. Leandro paints an awe-inspiring picture when describing the experience: “In our April retreat, we were actually able to do the closing exercise on the platform over the lake. People were in tears. It was such beautiful scenery. Seeing nature, all covered in snow and pure. It’s just magical for us.”
Beyond the spectacular scenery, Frost Valley’s staff also has a lasting impact on the participants.
“A lot of these kids have been mistreated or experienced discrimination. Everywhere they go there’s that fear: ‘Am I going to be treated bad?’ But the staff at Frost Valley just makes them feel comfortable. They come to the tables and ask how everyone is doing and even though some of the kids might not understand the language, they see the smile. They understand – this is a safe place,” says Leandro. That feeling of safety is crucial to achieving the outcomes that are so essential.
In an email to Frost Valley after a recent visit, Luciano wrote, “By helping us to fit the retreat in our budget, you are also helping many other people who will receive services with us. On behalf of my community I want to thank you for that.” And from all of us at Frost Valley, we would like to thank our donors who make it possible to financially support groups like the Latino Commission on AIDS, a group that adds so much to the fabric of our community here in the Valley.
This story originally appeared in Frost Valley’s 2017-2018 Annual Report. Find more great stories in this issue.