For almost 14 years, Rebecca Dennison has been fighting one of the world’s toughest fights. Since testing positive for HIV in 1991, Dennison, who is a Berkeley resident, has also become one of the leading advocates for women living with HIV/AIDS. She was honored for her work last Saturday when she was inducted into the Alameda County Women’s Hall of Fame.
Dennison, who originally founded WORLD, or Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Diseases, out of her living room, just recently stepped down from the helm of the organization that now reaches 12,000 women in 85 countries. Here in the East Bay alone they serve 200 families.
According to Dennison, she originally founded the organization because outreach services for women with HIV/AIDS didn’t exist at the time.
“I felt like women and the people who care about them needed a place to share information, resources and strategies for living with HIV/AIDS,” said Dennison.
Today WORLD’s resources include a newsletter, retreats and peer advocates who serve as a bridge between women and services such as doctors. The organization boasts many success stories, and has also helped Dennison in her own struggles.
When she learned she was positive she said she immediately thought she would quickly die and, even if she lived, never be able to have children. But with the information she got through WORLD, she found ways to reduce the risk of transmission. She eventually learned that she is a non-progressor, which means that her disease does not progress quickly.
“By belonging to this community there were a lot of things that I had, and the most important was having the information about reducing the risks of my children being infected,” said Dennison.
It took Dennison five years to get pregnant and she said it was the hardest decision she ever made to try.
Today, however, she is the proud mother of twin girls who will turn eight next week, both of whom are HIV negative.
“If I hadn’t had the support or information that the organization provides, I might have delayed getting pregnant and lost time with my kids,” she said.