By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO December 4, 2001 In the late 1980s, Vinny DeVino of Forestburgh died of AIDS but not before unknowingly passing on the deadly Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) to his beloved wife, Stacey.
In 1988, Stacey DeVino founded the Sullivan County AIDS Task Force in the days when HIV/AIDS was being swept under the carpet. She died Nov. 13 of this year after a long battle with AIDS.
On Saturday night, an interfaith World AIDS Day service was coordinated by the Sullivan County AIDS Task Force in memory of DeVino. It was held at the United Methodist Church of Monticello.
The theme of World AIDS Day 2001 is Youth & AIDS in the 21st Century: I Care. Do You?
Appropriately, several young adults in the Daytop Village and the Recovery Center choirs were featured performers during the service. Five-year old Laurice Reneé Ali Budd joined hands with her mother Thelma McIver, co-chair of the local AIDS task force, in leading the services closing candlelight ceremony in memory of those afflicted with or lost to HIV/AIDS.
The moving memorial service opened with Pastor Gene Smith of Monticello United Methodist Church leading the assemblage in singing the gathering hymn Kumbayah. Lucille Horton of the Monticello Presbyterian Church served as organist.
McIver and fellow task force director, Mercedes Elias, joined voices to read in unison a proclamation from the Sullivan County Legislature in recognition of World AIDS Day 2001.
Rabbi Irwin Tanenbaum of Temple Sholom led the gathering in reciting a prayer of hope and remembrance.
Most merciful God, you hold each of us dear to your heart, intoned the local rabbi. Hold those persons who are HIV-positive or now living with AIDS into your loving arms, and tenderly draw them into your love, together with all who are living with AIDS and HIV infections be they the person, the family, the caregivers, the support networks, those who seek new answers in treatment. Assure each of them that they are not alone, and give them courage and faith for all that is to come. Strengthen those who care for them and treat them, and guide those who do research.
Forgive those who have judged harshly, and enlighten those who live in prejudice or fear, he continued. Nourish those who have lost sight of you, and heal the spirits of those who are broken. We pray this in the name of you, O God, whose love is so best expressed in your willingness to suffer with us.
After Samantha Horowitz recited a poem titled Stacey, the Daytop Village Choir performed Silent Night and Lean on Me, featuring soloist Raymond Ballard.
Sunceray Coaxum, director of the Recovery Center HIV/AIDS outreach program, said that, in some way, HIV/AIDS had affected everyone in the audience. According to Coaxum, an AIDS panel will be created by the Recovery Center in honor of DeVino.
Knowledge is power, she said. Stacey was a fighter. . . . Shes no longer suffering in her physical body, shes in paradise now.
Loretta Meredith served with the local AIDS task force for a decade before leaving the area. On Saturday, she returned for the memorial service dedicated to the memory of her friend.
In 1988, Public Health Nursing realized the need for HIV/AIDS education in Sullivan County, she said.
According to published medical reports, the county has the highest per capita incidence if HIV/AIDS in the state, outside of NYC.
Thirteen years ago, there was persuasive ignorance and denial in this county, like everywhere [else] across our nation as well as the rest of the world, she added. Stacey showed such courage to come out and say she had HIV/AIDS . . . to go public with her diagnosis, to put a face on this virus.
She knew in her heart, mind and soul that this would touch other peoples lives in a positive way and transform peoples awareness, said Meredith.
The services program called for Meredith to read a poem, but that was news to her. Undaunted, she sat in the audience before it was her turn at the podium and, in about five minutes, dashed off Virtues, which received a standing ovation: Virtues of spirit, virtues for life. Teachings that raise upward from strife. Faith, hope, devotion. Creation divine. Truth, the foundation, so let your truth shine! Happiness spread by the joy in your heart. Courage to lead us on through the dark. Sharing, compassion, your heart to mine. Love everlasting, love infinite through time. Let us embrace all the virtues we can, every single child, woman and man.
The Recovery Center Choir also brought the crowd to its feet with their spirited renditions of Jesus is Real and Amazing Grace.
Dr. Joyce A. Garber, a close friend of DeVino, said, Stacey wanted to convey that she truly loved her life regardless of the virus and that she was happy more than she was sad or frustrated by it.
She never thought in terms of suffering, but rather that she was totally living and the pain was part of it at times, added Garber.Towards people that carry the virus, she said they should be strong and positive, and they should do things that make them happy and pursue peace and tranquility. She felt that people should give back to the community that is nurturing them. . . . Lastly, she felt it wasnt so bad having the virus, not even at the end, because she was still living and enjoying each day.
Rev. David M. Jolly led a responsive reading of Psalm 84, followed by the candlelighting ceremony.
The assemblage joined in singing the closing hymn God Will Take Care of You. Rabbi Tanenbaum read the closing benediction.
Tonight was very spiritual, said Pattie Smith of Yulan, a director of the Sullivan County AIDS Task Force. I felt Staceys spirit here tonight. . . . It touched a lot of people.
Smith said the most important message gleaned from the memorial service was you live until you die.
People are still getting the virus despite the knowledge of how its transmitted, she said. We need to integrate what we know into our behavior. . . . With all the other things that are happening in the world now, we cant lose sight of this problem. Its still out there.