WORLD Herstory

In April of 1991, WORLD was founded by Rebecca Denison and a small group of her peers, HIV+ women.  With the support of Rebecca’s husband, Dan Johnston,  the first issue of the WORLD Newsletter was mailed on May 1, 1991 to approximately 200 recipients. The San Francisco Chronicle announced the formation of WORLD and Rebecca began receiving about 30 calls a day.  In time, the Newsletter became a quarterly publication and grew to reach more than 12,000 readers in 87 countries.

Rebecca Denison, Founder

For the first four years of operation, WORLD was a very small, grassroots organization operating out of Rebecca’s living room in Oakland.  After a few months, women involved with WORLD decided to create and organize a retreat for positive women.  WORLD’s first retreat was held in 1991 at the Marin Headlands and 30 women were in attendance.  After the first year, Rebecca became WORLD’s sole employee.
WORLD kept growing.  WORLD’s AIDS Library began with a commitment to gather and share information on a variety of HIV/AIDS topics.  WORLD’s Speakers Bureau soon evolved with HIV+ women speaking at schools, churches, jails, conferences, medical trainings, and elsewhere.  In 1994, WORLD hired a second staff person to assist Rebecca and coordinate the WORLD Retreats, and WORLD moved into a real office located at 40th and Webster Streets in North Oakland. Retreats became larger events with key workshop themes and brought together 100 women attending retreats on average.
Following one of the retreats, women continued meeting to develop HIV University (“HIV U”). HIV U was created as a peer-run AIDS treatment education class to provide easy-to-understand information on health and psychosocial issues, including Western and Eastern treatments. HIV U became a model program with WORLD training women in over 40 cities across the country to replicate HIV U in their communities.

In 1997, WORLD was able to hire two additional office staff to assist with Information Services and Volunteer Coordination.  Three months later, WORLD staffed a Peer Advocate Program to provide one-on-one support, guidance, and information to other HIV+ women in the community.

The Early Years

In 1998, WORLD began support groups for youth (ages 25 & under) and women living with HIV.  That same year, WORLD moved to 13th Street and expanded the youth support group to a youth program, Positive Youth Together.
In 1999, WORLD began offering pregnancy-related Peer Advocacy and also briefly offered free, anonymous HIV testing and street outreach. Also in 1999, WORLD held its first “You Are Not Alone” press conference and march through the streets of Oakland with the support of positive women and their allies.

In 2000, WORLD hosted its first Women and Family Day Retreat for families of HIV+ women, and received funding for a Latina Peer Advocate position in recognition of the growing HIV infection rate among Latinas.

In 2004, WORLD Founder and Executive Director Rebecca Denison moved on from WORLD after 13 years of incredible leadership and inspiration to countless HIV+ women. During the same year, WORLD got involved in the Linkage Improvements to Network Clients program, an outreach program focused on assisting HIV+ women who had fallen out of primary medical care to find their way back into care.
In 2005, WORLD’s collaborative work with the Center for Health Training on the Lotus Project began. Lotus became our national training of HIV+ women interested in Peer Advocacy work. Training sites included Oakland,  San Diego, Texas, Atlanta, and several other cities across the United States.  A foundational training, the Lotus Project provided multiple trainings over the course of five years.
In 2006, WORLD celebrated a 15-year anniversary and the women of WORLD took to the streets on World AIDS Day to demand that the voices of HIV+ women be heard. For the first time, WORLD secured funding to fully support WORLD’s Speakers Bureau and offer an extensive training that was completed by 10 HIV+ women committed to educating their communities.

In 2007, WORLD began the POWERR Project  (Prevention Outreach with Women Empowered to Reduce Risk), a project led by HIV+ women who provided training and prevention education to African American young women and girls at risk for HIV.
The WORLD stories continue but let’s just say the rest is herstory.  Although WORLD has grown significantly over time, we remain community-based and committed to our earliest goals.  WORLD programs continue to emphasize peer-based advocacy and programming, and proudly rely on diverse volunteers and community members to support our staff, programs, and basic operations.

In 2014, WORLD joined forces with AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), a global organization that provides HIV/AIDS care to over 315,000 people in 34 countries worldwide. Through this union, WORLD and AHF will continue to jointly support thousands of people living with HIV throughout the Greater Bay Area.