Arlene Frames  
“I just wasn’t getting what I needed from my HIV support groups,” says Arlene Frames, a 48-year-old grandmother of four who was diagnosed with HIV in 1987. “Long-term survivors [were] in the same groups with the younger, newly diagnosed. Most of the discussions were about their issues, which is understandable, but there wasn’t much for me.”

Frames, who works as an HIV peer educator and public speaker in Los Angeles,  soon found that other older positive women felt the same way. “So many of us are dealing with [other] health issues,” she says, “like the responsibility of raising our grandchildren and just growing older.”

So in February of 2007, Frames and 16 positive L.A. grandmothers met at a restaurant—and the Grand Ma Red Diva Society was born. “It was amazing,” she says. “We had such a good time laughing and talking.”

But Frames is clear: The women do more than drink coffee and show off pictures of their kids. They have become community prevention leaders, with funding from McCarthy pharmacy and Women at Risk, an ASO that provides education and other support for HIV-positive women. “Since so many of us work in the health field and the community, we wanted to give back to those who gave to us,” Frames says.

As their budget grows, the society wants to provide etiquette classes for youth, mentor young girls, promote healthier eating and exercise, do outreach in shelters and even “adopt” an African grandmother who is rearing her grandchildren.

“This group has been a blessing,” says Elizabeth Marte, a 46-year-old grandmother of two. “It has enhanced my life.” Adds Frames: “We needed to celebrate life, especially when so many of us never thought we would live to see our kids grow up.”