In the summer of 1987, four young men living with AIDS, a social worker and a physician met with Episcopal Priest Father Lynn Edwards to discuss the effects of AIDS and HIV infection in the Pittsburgh area.
Then, as today, Pennsylvania ranked among the top 10 states with the most cases of AIDS. Yet there was no place where people with this disease could socialize with their partners, families and friends in a safe and secure setting.
From that meeting grew the Shepherd Wellness Community, a gathering place and resource center for people with HIV/AIDS and their loved ones. The first dinner was held in October 1987, and the tradition of nourishing meals accompanied by health education programs, peer support, wellness classes and socialization continues to this day.
A concerned group sitting around a kitchen table has become the only AIDS Community Center in western Pennsylvania.
2017 marked the 30th anniversary of the Shepherd Wellness Community (SWC), the only AIDS Community Center in western Pennsylvania. Our history mirrors the stories of courage, commitment, caring and sharing that mark the course of the disease that initially affected mostly young, gay men.
In 1985-86 Pittsburgh was reeling from a surge of deaths from what is now known as AIDS. People originally from Pittsburgh returned home when they became ill. They needed support and help, but AIDS alienated many of them from their families.
In 1987, Fr. Lynn Edwards, along with physician Bill Brandon and social worker Cynthia Klemanski founded Shepherd Wellness Community after meeting with young men infected with the disease. The men wanted a safe and secure haven where they could socialize with their friends and speak openly without fear. That meeting led to the start of Wellness Dinners at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Hazelwood. SWC became a true family, a non-judgmental, non-sectarian gathering place for those infected, their loved ones and friends.
In 1989, a small house in grave need of repair became our “Drop-In Center” in Hazelwood. Members now had a place to meet, watch television, do laundry and get outfitted in slightly-used clothes.
In 1990, Friday Wellness Dinners were moved to the First United Methodist Church in Shadyside because of the increasing number of people attending. Our ritual of the “Circle of Friendship” before each meal continues to this day
In 1994, the “Drop–In Center” moved to the parish house of the Church of the Good Shepherd. Then in 1998 it was relocated to leased space in the Bloomfield Community United Methodist Church. Our Executive Director, Scott Peterman, was hired in 1999.
2000 began a period of extraordinary growth that continues to this day. SWC has expanded services to include dinners, educational programs, wellness classes and family outings.
In 2001, the Bloomfield Community United Methodist Church and parsonage were donated to SWC for one dollar. Ongoing renovations have made our AIDS Community Center truly welcoming and accessible for physically challenged people.
From 2001 to the present we have witnessed remarkable changes in the treatment of HIV and in the needs of our community.
Our founder, Fr. Lynn Edwards, said that in the 1980s our work focused on helping people die with dignity. In the 1990s, after protease inhibitor drugs became available, our mission was helping HIV positive people live with dignity. Since 2013, our mission has been helping people living with HIV improve their wellness.
Despite wonderful advances in medical treatment, the need for a supportive community to assist people living with HIV is greater than ever and we continue to adapt our services to the changing needs of our community.
Today, the Board, Staff, Volunteers and Members of SWC pledge to continue and expand our life-enhancing services until AIDS ceases to exist.
Shepherd Wellness Community is a non-profit, tax exempt 501(c) 3 charity organization.