Team DC’s World AIDS Day 2011

By Zoltick on December 15, 2011 in AmeriCorps

Every year on December 1st people around the world commemorate those working tirelessly and selflessly in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  It is also a day to remember those who have lost their lives to the virus. The purpose of World AIDS Days is to educate one another on the dangers of stigma and discrimination, remind each other about the importance of getting tested, support those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, and reflect on those who are no longer with us. For some people it is a challenging day — why should December 1st be any different from December 2nd or November 30th? People often pose the question, “why isn’t World AIDS Day everyday?” In fact, for many people, like the AIDS United/Washington AIDS Partnership AmeriCorps team, World AIDS Day IS does take place every day.

The team went above and beyond this year, making December 1, 2011 a really significant and special day. The 12 members spent the first part of Thursday at Children’s National Medical Center. As one of the staff members at the hospital said, “This day would not have been possible without the AmeriCorps members here.” The team was stationed throughout the hospital helping with a variety of tasks. Some helped ensure that the HIV testing area stayed organized and that staff members knew where to get tested. Others attended a panel discussion with staff members of the Children’s National Medical Center who have been working in the field of HIV/AIDS for over a decade. Other AmeriCorps members educated the hospital community on safer sex and resources for youth in the city, and also facilitated educational games. Others passed out red ribbons, so that everyone in the hospital could spread awareness about HIV/AIDS.

Here are just a few of the special moments that took place throughout the day:

The day started out with a panel discussion for the entire hospital highlighting the successes made in HIV services as well as how the department can improve in the future. The passion and knowledge in the room was astounding. I was honored to be in the auditorium with so many dedicated and talented members of the community. The panel was followed by a vigil led by one of the hospital’s chaplains. She provided us with a space and ceremony to remember those we have lost in this fight. As the emotion flowed through the room the energy created recharged my battery to continue the work we are doing each day to ensure that everyone gets the education, care, and support they deserve.

The day continued with fun, informational, and educational activities in the hospital’s mini atrium. AmeriCorps members informed the hospital’s community about HIV/AIDS resources, facilitated educational games, and helped uplift medical providers who often never take a moment to celebrate life. It was an amazing feeling to walk into a room filled with positive vitality and optimistic energy for the future, as well as an awesome DJ and red ribbon cookies. I couldn’t help but dance and smile every time I walked through.

One of the main points mentioned in the panel discussion earlier that day was leading by example. I am so impressed by how many members of the hospital community came up to me to let me know that they got tested! Watching medical providers and hospital staff members step up as role models made me realize that there is real hope for the future of this disease. Without the AmeriCorps team directing people and raising awareness about the importance of getting an HIV test, the numbers of people seeking testing would not have been that high.

When I left the hospital at about 3:30 the main atrium was FILLED with people doing artwork, making bracelets, dancing, and smiling. It is a rare phenomenon to see that many people taking time out of their busy schedules to celebrate the wonderful, and life saving work they do.

Following the event at the hospital, the AmeriCorps team ventured over to the Latin American Youth Center where many of our organizations collaborated to create World AIDS Day events for youth in the city. The youth events actually began on the Tuesday prior to World AIDS Day at a popular local poetry venue. This gave youth the opportunity and space to express how HIV/AIDS has impacted their lives and the lives of people they love. The powerful messages shared carried over to the Latin American Youth Center on Thursday afternoon.

The events at LAYC included watching the film, The Other City, a documentary about HIV/AIDS Washington D.C. The movie was followed by a question and answer period with Jose Ramirez, one of the community members featured in the film. During the movie AmeriCorps members helped serve food, provide HIV, STI, and pregnancy tests, and educate youth about HIV in DC as well as provide useful, youth-friendly resources. The building was packed with young people until about 7:00 when the event moved to the Warehouse Theater downtown for a performance of “The Battle,”  a play directed and produced by a local DC youth about HIV and how it affects relationships. It was a perfect end to long and eventful day.

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