Ukelele busker TeeJay (Terrence John Groom) shows off some of his energetic moves while performing on the street last Friday.

HIV offers second chance for Victoria busker

On March 29, numerous restaurants are donating 25 per cent of proceeds from your bill to the Victoria branch of AVI.

He’s best known as the shirt-and-tie clad ukelele busker seen along Government Street and the Inner Harbour. But this Thursday, Terry Groom, a.k.a Tee Jay, will be literally singing for his supper during the seventh annual Dining Out for Life Vancouver Island.

Groom, an HIV-positive, gay male living in Victoria, is a client of AIDS Vancouver Island.

On March 29, numerous restaurants throughout Greater Victoria are donating 25 per cent of proceeds from your restaurant bill to the Victoria branch of AVI. Some of the funds will go towards providing hot meals for people with HIV/AIDS.

“People eating out will actually help people living with HIV (receive) nutritional meals,” said Andrea Langlois, communications manager for AIDS Vancouver Island.

In 2010, there were 301 new cases of HIV diagnosed in B.C. Twenty-one of those people who tested positive were from Southern Vancouver Island. But 25 per cent of people with HIV don’t even know they have it, Langlois said.

The quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS is amazing now compared to 20 years ago, Groom said. Instead of taking as many as 24 pills in a cocktail, which people with HIV used to need, Groom now takes anti-viral therapy medication just once per day.

He takes the pill with the first meal he eats each day. A meal that often comes from the nutrition program at AVI.

“They make a boxed lunch for me, or a bagged lunch, and I take it with me to my first performance venue,” Groom explained. “If it wasn’t for that (program)… I’d be eating a bologna sandwich.”

As part of Dining Out For Life, Groom performs on March 29 at The Ledge at the Bedford Regency Hotel on Government Street.

He has always wanted to give back to AIDS service organizations, which have helped and continue to help him, he says. Performing at the gay-friendly lounge seems like “the perfect fit.”

“I’m much more comfortable soliciting donations with a ukelele in my hand and singing than I am going up to a table (of people) and saying ‘Hi there, my name is Terry and I’m a client of AVI, give me all your money,’” Groom chuckled.

Groom, 46, said he contracted HIV in Vancouver seven years ago during a self-destructive and naive time of his life. The former drug-addict has had his two sons and his own father turn their backs on him. His marriage also fell apart, he said. But now, Groom has picked himself up and says he’s the happiest he’s ever been.

“I finally realized (in October 2011), even though I didn’t want to, through the help of AVI and my mentor, I’ve learned to take my head out of my proverbial butt, smarten up and fly right,” he said.

Groom has found happiness in playing music and helping others. He is a counsellor at Vancouver Island Persons Living with HIV/AIDS Society, working with people who’ve recently contracted HIV. He is also in the process of starting a men’s group for HIV-positive males, he said.

As a musician, he adds, he has an album, Better Here Than Nowhere, coming out on March 31.

After first being diagnosed with HIV, his doctor said it was probably the best thing for him, given his previous habits, Groom said.

“I thought that was the strangest, most incredibly bad thing (for my doctor) to say… but looking back on it, she was absolutely right,” he said. “It gave me a chance to slow down and take a look at myself from a different viewpoint (and) look after my health.”

He’s healthier now in mind, spirit and body than he ever was before contracting HIV, he added.

Groom says he looks forward to performing at Dining Out For Life, interacting with guests and raising funds for AVI.

“I want people to enjoy my music and I want them to give generously to AVI because without them, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.”

A lot of the work that AVI does is to de-mystify the stigma around HIV/AIDS, Langlois said.

Dining Out For Life is an example of an event that reminds people that HIV/AIDS exists in our community, she added. It also reminds people that by coming together, the impact of HIV/AIDS can be diminished.

Tradition continues at Saanich location

Cabin 12, which recently re-located to Cedar Hill Road from downtown, is one of the restaurants taking part in Dining Out For Life. It will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Owner Corey Judd said Cabin 12 has been a part of the event for the past few years and continues to support it because it’s an interesting way to give back to the community.

“What really impresses me about (Dining Out For Life) is that it’s really put together and how effective it is,” he said. “It’s a really easy way for businesses to participate and actually to give back and to be able to help out (the community).”

Last year’s event raised $30,000, Langlois said. But over the past six years, Dining Out For Life Victoria has raised $150,000.

Diners are invited to make donations outside of their food bill. As well, one-dollar of every Stella Artois beer sold on March 29 at participating restaurants will go to AVI.

For more information or to see a full list of participating restaurants, visit diningoutforlife.com/vancouverisland.

reporter@vicnews.com