LYNN — The three-month visit Verny Samayoa planned to Boston in 1982 turned into a permanent stay for the Guatemalan and Honduran native who over the course of four decades became a U.S. citizen, moved to Lynn, and championed AIDS and HIV awareness.
“I love my work and I love Lynn,” Samayoa said.
Samayoa, 67, worked from 1993 to 2013 for the Lynn Community Health Center. He initially focused on AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) and HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) education and outreach to teenagers and other groups.
As the center expanded and moved to Union Street, Samayoa’s responsibilities grew to include counseling and referral work as well as literacy program development and cancer awareness education.
He shifted his work on AIDS to Boston in 2013 and his affiliation with AIDS Action beginning in 2015 now sees him dividing his time as a case manager between Boston and Lynn, where he takes appointments three days a week at 583 Chestnut St., an office center where the Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce is located.
“My clients are not just from Lynn. I link them to services, medication resources and transportation help,” he said.
Born in Guatemala, Samayoa moved as a boy to his mother’s native Honduras and he still speaks of his family roots entwined in both countries.
“When I am with my mother, I sound Honduran speaking Spanish at very low volume. When I am talking with people from Lynn’s Guatemalan population, they say I sound like I am from San Marcos,” he said, referring to the Guatemalan city.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in management at a Guatemalan university and vowed not to return to school until a friend urged him to make a 1982 visit to Boston.
He fell in love with the city, scouring its neighborhoods and learning to ride the MBTA. He enrolled in an English language program at Boston University and launched into graduate studies in management at the school before deciding Lesley College, with its smaller classes, was more to his liking.
AIDS touched Samayoa’s life in the mid-1980s when a close friend was diagnosed as HIV positive. Samayoa took on the role of caretaker and discovered Boston initiatives focusing on AIDS and providing education and outreach to desperately needed bilingual workers.
Job applications he filled out included one for Lynn Community Health.
“Verny was one of the first outreach workers the Health Center hired,” said former Executive Director Lori Abrams Berry. “He was a very optimistic guy. He gained the trust of a lot of people in the community and was really a role model for people who followed.”
Samayoa went into schools and neighborhoods to meet with and educate female sex workers and intravenous drug users. Abrams Berry said his work convinced people to get HIV testing and, if needed, medical care.
“To me, he is a hero,” she said.
Samayoa was the 2002 John S. Moran Community Service Award recipient. The award is named for the late Item executive editor, who was a member of the Health Center’s board of directors and contributed a significant amount of his time to supporting center causes.
A career spent on AIDS/HIV education and outreach has not dimmed Samayoa’s love for his work and belief in its importance.
“There are still stigmas and misconceptions. Education is needed,” he said.
He loves downtown Lynn’s resurgence and works on his own health by practicing tai chi at least five days a week.
Thor Jourgensen can be reached at [email protected]