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AmeriCorps Week in Tulsa!

Team TulsaTeam Tulsa’s service day during AmeriCorps week was at Community of Hope United Church of Christ. We helped out in the community garden, where 12 of the 40 garden plots are dedicated to growing food for families affected by HIV/AIDS. We also cleaned up the memorial rock garden that honors people who have died from AIDS.

Community of Hope was started in the 1990s as a church that welcomed people with HIV/AIDS. At that time, many other churches in the area openly discouraged these people from attending. Since then the church has seen changes in its location, denomination, and members, but it still caters to people affected by HIV/AIDS.

One of  the ways the church does outreach is through “Tables to Go,” a program that provides a week’s worth of food every month to 12 families (36 people) affected by HIV/AIDS. The community garden located on the church property has dedicated 12 of the 40 plots to growing healthy food for this program.

The memorial rock garden on the church property is a beautifully landscaped memorial to people who have died from AIDS.  Family members and friends can write names and messages on rocks as a way to remember and honor them. The 1997-1998 AIDS United (then National AIDS Fund) AmeriCorps team created this memorial as its long term project, so it was great to be able to continue the work that the team started!

What we did:

There was a lot of work to be done – spring sprang very early in Tulsa! Brant spent much of the day pruning an apple tree that was growing out of control. The meticulous task was a perfect job for him and the community garden leaders were so pleased with the result!

Karen, Carolyn, Paige and Naomi spent time cleaning up the memorial rock garden. The pine trees in the garden are lovely, but there were a LOT of pine needles that needed to be removed! We carted away 15 wheelbarrow loads of leaves, weeds and needles!  We uncovered memorial rocks that had been buried, and prepared the garden for some people who are going to be doing planting soon.

Paige and Karen got the dirty job of cleaning out the community garden water tank. It was pretty gross, but it’s important to have a clean water supply to grow food! They also got to harvest cilantro for the next day’s delivery of food to the families the garden serves!

Overall we had a tiring day of work in the sun, and it was a lot of fun to get to work with a group that has such a rich history of serving people in Tulsa with HIV/AIDS.

AmeriCorps Week | Team Carolina

Team Carolina has been busy. For AmeriCorps Week, we traveled North Carolina to find individuals who embody the message: “Life does not stop after a positive diagnosis.” Our long term project started with an idea, and has now blossomed into the production of a public service announcement campaign. Millions of individuals get newly diagnosed every day. Without the proper support system, these individuals may feel lost and alone. Additionally, because HIV-related stigma may keep people from disclosing their status, they may lack the public education necessary in order to take the next step after a positive diagnosis. We aim to produce awareness and information that help relieve this problem.

When we conduct interviews, we ask our interviewees to answer our questions as if they are talking to an individual who has just been newly diagnosed.  As a result, we hear suggestive, honest, nostalgic, and regretful commentary. One of our goals for this project is for newly-diagnosed individuals who may see it to begin to feel like they have a community they can turn to.  As human beings, a sense of community is something we naturally long for. When a stranger who has been positive for twenty-some years is telling you that life will be okay, the message becomes not only powerful, but intimate.

Team Carolina has conducted over ten interviews and the footage is truly inspiring. We have traveled from Charlotte to Greensboro to Fayetteville, while also recording anecdotes within the Triangle Area of North Carolina as well. Once interviews are completed, the editing process will begin. Our goal: one short public service announcement, one long(er) informational piece, and several commercial-length videos. It would be a dream if AIDS service organizations across the country could use the footage as an avenue to reach newly diagnosed people in their area. To launch the finished project, we plan on having a screening party with other local AmeriCorps teams, several AIDS Service Organizations, and the local community and media.

All of this could not have been possible without the assistance from AIDS United, and the University of North Carolina Center for AIDS Research. They have enabled us to maximize our resources in order to cover the various facets of this production.

AmeriCorps Week: Team DC

Greeted by balmy spring weather, Team DC members started off AmeriCorps Week putting their green thumbs to use at The Washington Youth Garden (TWYG), part of the National Arboretum.  Established in 1960, TWYG provides educational programs for youth of the DC metro area.  Focused on teaching youth about nutrition, about where food comes from, and about urban gardening, TWYG offers year-round classes to families and school-based programs.  In preparation for the growing season, Team DC spent a portion of the day weeding and mulching the surrounding butterfly garden.

The remainder of the day was spent at Transgender Health Empowerment’s (THE) Wanda Alston House.  This home provides transitional housing for LGBTQ homeless youth of DC.  Being the only housing directly serving this population in DC, it became the clear choice for Team DC’s long term project (LTP) efforts. After meeting a couple of residents and taking a tour of the house, the team was able to sit down with a current resident and discuss the vision for the house, and her experiences, so we could establish a better idea of where the focus of DC’s LTP was headed.

AmeriCorps Week with Team NOLA

While many organizations in New Orleans have devoted themselves to rebuilding houses destroyed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana State University AgCenter has been working to rebuild Louisiana’s natural resources– especially its wetlands. During AmeriCorps week, Team NOLA took some time to aid in that project by volunteering at the wetlands plant center in City Park, a 1500 acre space located in New Orleans. We were joined by another AmeriCorps member who had brought a team down from Indiana to volunteer.

Before we started working, Caitlin Reilly– the AmeriCorps alumna who supervises the center– took some time to explain to us the purpose of the work the wetlands plant center is doing. The wetlands plant center grows various plants which are then replanted in City Park’s wetlands. Preserving the state’s wetlands is important because they help to prevent erosion and also act as a filtration system for pollutants.

After Caitlin’s informative talk, we got to work, cleaning out barrels and weeding plants. It was hard work. Most of the weeds did not want to give way, and some of the plants were infested with red ants. The day was also quite warm.

After a late lunch and some work on our long-term project, we headed to the New Orleans Museum of Art. There we saw an exhibit of art called “Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial”. Thornton Dial is an artist who grew up in poverty in rural Alabama and who makes use of discarded objects in his art. His art takes on topics like racism and war. It was a difficult but powerful exhibit to see.

Proving My Strength, and Coming Back for More!

by Lawrence Bernal,
Team to End AIDS Athlete

Last year was my 10th year of living with HIV and I had decided to do something just to prove how strong I was. I had decided to run a marathon. As I was thinking this I was flip’n through the Washington Post Express and had came across the T2 ad. Talk about divine intervention. I got online and signed up for the Chicago Marathon and there was no turning back. I now had 1000 more reasons on why I needed to finish what I was about to start and didn’t even know it.

It was such a great feeling of knowing that I wasn’t alone. Knowing that I wasn’t the only one dreading getting up at 6:00 AM just to go running and actually looking forward to it. Knowing that I wasn’t the only one who was having aches and pains from the previous weeks run. Knowing not to worry if I had forgotten my “goo”  because your running mates always brought extra.  Knowing that we were all doing this for one common goal. Helping those in need and fighting AIDS.

So this year I’m back and have decided to make the goal extra sweet. I’m not only running the Chicago Marathon, but also the Honolulu Marathon and the Luray Triathlon. I know you’re thinking I’m crazy, but after several months of training you start making connections. You start making friends. You have literally joined an extended family and what’s crazy is NOT coming back and being part of something special and fighting the great fight!

So, until there is no longer a need or until there is a cure I’ll be back year after year. Running for myself. Running for those who can’t and running for those we have lost.

Can’t wait to see old faces and meet some new ones. See you out on the course.

“The AIDS Community Must Band Together”

By Doug Wirth, Amida Care, NY, NY

Day 1 of AU’s Positive Charge Spring convening was filled with information/ideas for improving access and HIV care.

The health care reform session highlighted: 1) how private insurers restrict coverage due to pre-existing conditions and/or make it too costly; 2) how we’ve missed opportunities to engage people early, foster wellness and prevent new HIV infections due to a health care system (Medicaid/Medicare) that requires people to become sick/disable before care is made readily available; and 3) the reality that neither discretionary funding (Ryan White) nor the status quo (repeal ACA) will address the public health and care crisis of our time. Thankfully, facilitators Anne Donnelly (Project Inform) and Amy Killelea (Harvard Law School) lead PC/SIF grantees in a solution-focused, readiness review that frankly challenged all of us to get “in-action” at the State-level. ACT NOW to ensure State Exchanges plan for the needs of PLWH, ensure HIV providers are in managed care networks, and help design consumer education to minimize care interruptions and help PLWH navigate change. “Don’t wait to be invited in,” exclaimed Anne and Amy, “Get iLogo - Access to Caren there and make the cost-effectiveness argument” to State Legislatures and Exchange Boards. The session ended with a good dose of reality – nobody is going to save us. With Medicaid expansions on the horizon; consumers, providers and advocates need to engage in making Medicaid managed care work for PLWH.

Perhaps now more than ever, the AIDS community must band together to maximize resources for care and services to PLWH. This will require ongoing quality improvement to ensure funding for effective interventions and collaboration. It was fitting that the afternoon was spent discussing both. I’m struck by the dedication, wisdom and creativity of our PC/SIF colleagues from Massachusetts, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, Durham (NC), San Francisco/Oakland, Louisiana, Montgomery (AL), St. Louis (MO), New York and Washington, DC.

Thanks AIDS United, BMS and Wal-Mart for helping lead the way!