Dine Out for My Life: Jay Johnson

"One must never give up and we must keep fighting until the epidemic is over."

Mr. Johnson is helping kick off this newest column, which will feature a different local who has been affected by HIV/AIDS every Thursday between now and the day of Dining Out for Life (DOFL), on April 25. This year’s edition of DOFL comprises 150 restaurants in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley and, for the first time, will include food trucks at 12th Street and Passyunk Ave., from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Someone should get a medal for coming up with that idea.

Each restaurant (and food truck) that takes part will donate a third of that day’s earnings to local HIV-fighting org ActionAIDS. You can check the website for info on participating restaurants and to make reservations at your favorite spot. But now, without further ado, say hello to Mr. Johnson:

My name is … Jay Johnson

I was born and raised in … Philadelphia, Pa. I have lived here all my life except for a short stay in Voorhees, N.J.

What do you do for work? I have a nursing background but have landed one of the most rewarding jobs after being furloughed from my 30-year nursing position. I am currently working for ActionAIDS in the position of Volunteer Coordinator.

How has HIV/AIDS affected your life? As a person living with the virus for 22 years it has affected my life in many ways — mostly positively. It has motivated me to get my life in order and I returned to school and obtained my bachelor and masters degrees. I have been one of the lucky people with this virus. My health has been good considering my HIV status, but it takes going to a lot of medical appointments, taking medications and having blood drawn regularly. It also has brought on added stresses other than the usual everyday stresses. It complicates love relationships, family dynamics and other life issues that an HIV negative person most likely does not face. I have the privilege to be a part of an experimental study that may lead to a cure for HIV. It has been very promising.

But [HIV] has also affected me by the loss of many friends: relationships and people who were an important part of my life are gone forever!! I do still have the fine memories!!!

The biggest thing I have learned from my experience with HIV/AIDS is … That one must never give up and we must keep fighting until the epidemic is over!! Because people are living longer and healthier [lives] with HIV, there is a misconception that this disease is no longer a threat!! We must keep educating and fighting for funding until there is a cure or else we all will lose the battle!!

My favorite restaurant participating in Dining Out for Life is … Until last year I did not have a favorite restaurant! A group of friends [and I] have been getting together every year since the beginning of DOFL, in memory of the loved ones we lost!! Each year, we would choose a different restaurant and they all were great!! But last year for the first time I decided to be an Ambassador and we chose Bistro Romano in Society Hill. The experience was so fantastic that our group has decided to return again this year. I also will be the Ambassador again.The food and staff were out of this world!!! The restaurant was very quaint and the other guest were so accommodating!! It was a very relaxing and friendly atmosphere!!

You should make a reservation to take part in this year’s Dining Out for Life, because … Because it is a fun evening and you are raising money for a great cause!! This evening also honors those who have lost the battle to HIV/AIDS!! It is a good time to share a special time with friends and family and support a wonderful cause!!

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