AIDS Living Memorial Grove
For over 17 years, the Steve Weiss AIDS Living Memorial Grove has been a place of solace, reflection, education, and awareness for the Central Coast community. The Grove was founded in 1994 by a group of community members who were deeply concerned about and affected by the AIDS epidemic. To this day, the Grove honors the memory of those in our community who have died of AIDS, as well as those who have had their lives forever altered by losing a loved one to the disease. Moreover, the Grove continues to support the hundreds of people in our community who live with HIV and AIDS every day.
The Grove was designed as a place of healing and renewal. Comprised of hundreds of native plants, most of the flora planted at the Grove was chosen in part for its healing properties. Abundant at the Grove are wild rose bushes, cherished by the Chumash for their aid in digestion, white and black sage, noted antiseptics, and California Bay Laurels, whose bark and leaves strengthen immunity. Cypress, redbuds, California oaks, coffeeberries, sequoias, and wild grasses populate the four acres, and a burbling stream, boasting a healthy riparian zone, courses through the area. Indeed, the health of the Grove is only cemented by the generous presence of local wildlife – the Grove is a bird-watcher’s dream!
Perhaps the most important part of the Grove, however, is the Gazebo and the Walk of Remembrance at its entrance. The Walk of Remembrance, established at the founding of the Grove, is a walkway in which each stone bears the name of a person our community has lost to AIDS. Indeed, it is this walkway that has allowed the Grove to come into perhaps its most important function – that of education.
Even more so today than in the mid 1990s when the Grove was founded, many in our community do not think HIV/AIDS is a problem. Indeed, many residents we speak to when asked about HIV/AIDs cite the pandemics in Africa and Asia, while maintaining that HIV/AIDS no longer touches our community. However, it only takes one visit to our Grove to show that this assertion is false – indeed, hundreds in our county have died of AIDS, while hundreds more continue to live with the disease. It is only when this realization happens that the accompanying message of prevention will take hold, and the number of new infections in our county will decline. Without a doubt, the Grove is one of the most powerful and natural ways for to raise awareness about AIDS, and is especially effective when imparting the message of prevention to youth in our county.
This spring, the AIDS Memorial Grove will enter its next stage of life. As the number of people whose lives have been affected by HIV/AIDS continues to grow, coupled with the increase in the number of people who no longer take measures to protect themselves against HIV, the mission of the Grove has taken on a whole new level of importance.
First, we plan to increase the Path of Remembrance. There are currently hundreds of stones to be placed, an endeavor that will cover much of the Grove’s walkway. We also plan to continue the cultivation of our native Healing Garden. Currently, we have a multitude of trees and shrubs, and the next stage is to plant substantial undergrowth, including native medicinal herbs. We hope that the expansion of the Healing Garden and the Path of Remembrance will aid us in our mission to educate the public, and especially youth, about both HIV/AIDS and the healing power of the Earth.
The Steve Weiss AIDS Living Memorial Grove is always open to the community. It is located in El Chorro Regional Park, on Hwy 1 across from Cuesta College. As always, we continue to welcome input and support from the community in maintaining our Grove – we frequently have Grove work days where all are welcome to join. If you are interested in volunteering at the Grove, or in donating your services or funds toward the continuation of our Healing Garden or Path of Remembrance, please visit our website at www.asn.org or call us at 781-3660. The AIDS Memorial Grove is one of many ways that the AIDS Support Network seeks to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS in our community – feel free to contact us to get involved with our agency!
Chloe Tirabasso works with the AIDS Support Network of SLO County through Ameria Corp.