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Helping Latinas in San Diego Prevent HIV

by Veronica Tovar,  MPA
HIV Research and Education
Chicano Federation

For the past five years, Chicano Federation has been conducting the National HIV Behavioral Surveillance (NHBS) in San Diego. NHBS is a Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) program that interviews populations at risk for HIV to track behavioral trends in twenty-one cities in the U.S. with the highest HIV prevalence.

During counseling and testing sessions through this project, Chicano Federation found that many Latinas had never been tested for HIV.  Furthermore, many shared that their male partners were engaged in extramarital affairs, but continued to have unprotected intercourse.  Quite a few others shared that they did not know whether their partner was monogamous.  Both Latinos and Latinas, usually the older, lower-economic status couples, revealed not knowing how HIV is transmitted or how to use a condom.

According to the CDC, Latinas represent nearly one quarter (24%) of new HIV infections in the U.S. (CDC, 2010).  When compared to the United States, California and San Diego County had the largest proportion of Hispanic HIV cases (Epidemiology Report, 2010). In 2003-2007, the most common mode of HIV transmission in females was heterosexual contact (75% of all cases). Additionally, according to the CDC, high HIV risk in heterosexuals is linked to regions of high poverty and high STI rates.

In response to these overwhelming findings, with the financial and technical support of AIDS United and Johnson & Johnson, Chicano Federation created the De Mujer a Mujer curriculum (From Woman to Woman).  This unique health curriculum specifically aimed at educating traditional, mono-lingual, migrant Latinas living in one of five high-risk zip codes in San Diego, structured to cover a wide spectrum of health issues with the end goal being to de-stigmatize HIV and empower women to take control of their sexual relationships, get tested for HIV, and start making better decisions related to their own overall health and their children’s health.

AIDS United and Johnson & Johnson provided the opportunity to create an innovative program by allowing a formative and pilot phase prior to implementation.  Staff found that in order to address HIV, some basic needs and issues must first be acknowledged.  The curriculum was designed to address the overall encompassing needs of women, and gain trust and confidence before indulging in the taboo subjects of sex, HIV, and communicating with partners and children. The model consists of seven sessions, as follows: 1.Information/Introduction, 2. Gender empowerment, 3. Healthy relationships, 4. Reproductive anatomy, 5. HIV/STI 101, 6. Communication, and 7. Graduation. The three main objectives are 1. Increase self-efficacy and a personal sense of empowerment 2. Improve inter-personal communication skills, and 3. Improve safe sex practices through sexual health knowledge.

In 12 months Chicano Federation has held 63 weekly sessions for 128 women.  Of those 128 Latinas who participated, 112 graduated with 88% having attended all of the seven weekly sessions.  The comparisons of pre- and post- evaluations show statistically significant, positive improvements in all three areas.  More Latinas are getting tested for HIV and using condoms as a result of this intervention. But perhaps the most interesting results come from personal testaments to the impact that this program has had on the individuals.  Many participants have shared stories of how their participation in De Mujer a Mujer has acted as a catalyst for healthier choices in their lives.  The participants start showing positive improvements in their appearances, they share stories of terminating unhealthy relationships, have fun explaining the creative ways they have introduced condoms in their sex lives, and their experiences of communicating about safe sex with their children, to name a few.  The letter below from a De Mujer a Mujer participant explains both the impact and the continued need for this intervention in our community.

“I want to thank the instructors in the De Mujer a Mujer for giving me the opportunity to attend their class…The exercises we did in class were fun and smartly put together and I found myself laughing but at the same time really thinking about the impact it could make in my everyday life.  I was surprised that the Latinas in our community are still not informed about HIV and the myths they still hear.  I believe our culture has a lot to do with it.  I hope De Mujer a Mujer continues and more Latinas are aware of it because it is greatly needed in the Latina community.  I’m definitely telling every Latina in the community I come across about De Mujer a Mujer.” –Adriana Lopez

Two years ago, Chicano Federation went through a change in leadership, something that had not happened in 20 years.  This change, along with the support from AIDS United, has allowed Chicano Federation to invest in innovative projects like De Mujer a Mujer; it has provided the opportunity to bridge the gap between HIV research and the social services it provides to the community.  The creation of the program, not only brought new energy to the organization, but also to the community at large.  Stakeholders and media alike welcome the opportunity to learn more about De Mujer a Mujer, despite the difficult subject, and they are eager to help make this program succeed.  Chicano Federation and this program are being viewed as a model to delivering mission driven services in a relevant and effective way. Chicano Federation now has social services for HIV prevention and has demonstrated success implementing an innovative project.  Thank you AIDS United and Johnson & Johnson for this wonderful journey!

Proposed House Budget Committee’s FY 2013 Budget: Unfair and Unbalanced but a Clear Choice

by Ronald Johnson, Vice President, Policy and Advocacy

Its déjà vu all over again as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) released a proposed budget blueprint for FY 2013 and proposed legislative language for a budget resolution.  With some noted variations, the budget proposal is a repeat of the mean-spirited budget that the full House adopted for FY 2012 on a largely party line vote.  Even the name is the same: “Path to Prosperity.”  The recycled title is just as misleading today as it was last year.  Given what is being proposed, a more complete and correct title would be “Path to Further Prosperity for Those who are Already Very Prosperous.”  The subtitle should be changed to “A Blueprint for Misery and Pain for Everyone Else.”  And make no mistake; the “everyone else” includes the majority of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Like most documents dealing with the federal budget, Chairman’s Ryan’s proposal for FY 2013 is a mass of numbers and projections.  The proposed budget can, however, be boiled down to a few key elements, most dusted off from last year’s proposal:

  • The budget proposal sets the overall discretionary federal spending level at $1.028 trillion. This is $19 billion below the FY ’13 level called for in the Budget Control Act (BCA) and represents a disturbing break with the bipartisan agreement that was forged last summer to avoid the country defaulting on its debt.
  • Defense discretionary spending would increase by $8 billion while non-defense discretionary spending would be reduced by over 5%. Non-defense spending includes health care and HIV/AIDS programs and already has been cut by nearly $1 trillion over 10 years under the BCA.
  • The budget proposal assumes repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including of course Medicaid expansion in 2014 to individuals whose income is at or below 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL).  This alone would mean that the large number of people living with HIV who have low incomes and are currently uninsured would continue to have limited or no access to the care and treatment that can save their lives. The impact on people living in the South could be especially dire.
  • The plan calls for a fundamental and drastic restructuring of Medicaid and Medicare.  The entitlement nature of both programs essentially would be eliminated and federal support slashed.  Much of the costs would be shifted to the states, in the case of Medicaid, and to the individual, in the case of Medicare.  Together, the programs are the top two providers of health care coverage for the overwhelming majority of people living with HIV and AIDS.
  • Existing tax breaks that benefit the wealthiest individuals and many corporations would be maintained and new tax cuts created.  The cost, estimated to be over $3 trillion over 10 years would be paid for by higher taxes for middle class individuals and families and deep cuts in spending for programs that benefit the “99%.”
  • The proposed budget shreds the intricate web of safety nets not only for low-income individuals and vulnerable populations but for middle class people as well.  Funding for food stamps and other programs that provide direct assistance would be reduced significantly. Equally draconian would be the cuts to investing in education, the country’s infrastructure, and to public health.

In many ways, the proposed FY 2013 plan is less a budgetary document and more a political manifesto.  Chairman Ryan himself sees the proposed budget as setting a clear difference with President Obama over the role and function of government.  It is also a clear difference between a fair and balanced approach, with shared responsibility, to reducing the federal deficit and achieving fiscal stability and a one-sided approach that destroys the social compact, stresses austerity for the many, and awards huge benefits for the very few.  The Ryan budget is one more indicator of how important the upcoming November elections are.  This election year will provide us with a clear choice.  We can choose a path that leads to a true American renewal that can include an end to the AIDS epidemic or we can choose a path that adds to more inequality, more health disparities, and more social and economic injustice.  If we can recognize and rise up to meet this challenge, maybe the recycled Ryan budget will have been a service after all.

A Fire in the House: HIV/AIDS in the Deep South

by Maura Riordan
Vice President, Access & Innovation

I’ve never blogged before. Having been active in the fight against HIV/AIDS for the past 25+ years, I’ve seen plenty of life that is unfair, unjust, and painful. I grew up in a sense, in the AIDS epidemic. I began this work when I was in my 20’s . . . when my gay male friends starting getting sick, and dying. I did not understand what was happening around me. As more people became sick, and quickly died during the early years of AIDS in the US, I did know one thing – I wanted to be able to tell my future children that I did something to help – that I did not stand by while human beings died without a loving hand to hold, without hope, without respect. I wanted them to know that while some reacted with bigotry and hatred, so many stepped forward with a sense of community and a remarkable human spirit.

Since those early days, I have stayed in the field of HIV/AIDS.  And in that time I have seen the epidemic change in so many ways. We have treatment options that make HIV/AIDS a chronic, manageable disease.   Not easy, but with access to care and treatment, manageable.  The populations most impacted have changed.  Or more accurately, and more sadly, expanded.   White, gay men were hit first (and continue to be), but now people of color living in poverty are the forefront of those disproportionately impacted. The African American community is at the epicenter of the epidemic, with a particularly devastating impact on men who have sex with men (MSM), and women.

Many of us who have worked in this field long-term have grown accustomed to fewer deaths and a system of care that was built as a result of activism, spurred by the stigma, homophobia, and lack of mediations that killed so many HIV-positive Americans in the beginning.  The creation of the Ryan White Care Act, the formalization of support services that grew out of grassroots efforts to care for the dying, and the availability of life-saving medications have all fundamentally changed what was once widely considered by much of the general public, a top tier public health crisis.

Don’t get me wrong – there have always been unmet needs and deep injustices toward people living with HIV/AIDS in the US, but it is fair to say that overall, things got better in the late 1990’s.

And then I went to Alabama. I went as part of a small delegation of private sector funders to see the impact of HIV on the region, and to learn more about the innovative responses to epidemic that our grantees and stakeholderse have developed with AIDS United support.

I have known for some time that the South is the home of disproportionate HIV infections, poverty, lack of access to care, stigma, and poor health outcomes.  Somehow though, in more than 25 years of working in HIV,  I had managed to miss a visit to Alabama. It is hard to put into words what this trip, and the people I met and listened to, has meant to me. I have come away with a renewed sense of urgency in my work, because what I have seen and heard is far too reminiscent of my early days in this fight. The fear that many people in the South living with HIV/AIDS have at the possibility of others finding out about there HIV status, is palpable. Disclosures  have resulted for many in the loss of employment, the severing of relationships by friends and family, and a spiral into substance use, deeper poverty and marginalization.

I was initially shocked at the difficulty we had finding HIV-positive Alabamians to talk with our group about living with HIV in the South, but it became abundantly clear that stigma and its dangerous ripple effects, are simply intolerable for people living with HIV in the South, in addition to dealing with poverty and racism.

HIV’s ravaging of the Deep South represents a fire in our collective house in the United States.  The HIV/AIDS epidemic there is comparable with many of the countries that we assist in our global response to it. This is unacceptable, and presents a pivotal opportunity for those among us who believe in righting historical wrongs. Our first evening on the Alabama trip began in the Civil Rights Memorial Center, in Montgomery, Alabama. Walking through this space, and seeing the powerful images of the historical fight against injustice, it was clear that the current day fight against HIV/AIDS stigma and resource deprivation in the South is part of the same march for human rights.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic in the South cannot be seen as an isolated reality, separate from the larger civil and human rights movement. Poverty, racism, and ignorance fuel the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South and beyond. If we have learned anything from those who went before us, those who put their lives on the line for justice and human rights, it is that change will not come easily. Do we sit by while an entire population of Americans living in the Deep South face an epidemic proportional to that in developing countries? Do we demand that federal resources be allocated in a way that is reflective of the Southern reality? Do we host an International AIDS Conference in Washington DC this July, and not acknowledge that there is a fire in our own home?

For the first time in years, I feel a fire in my belly. It is a message that I cannot ignore. Many years ago, I promised myself that I would be able to tell my children that I did the right thing.  So I joined the fight. I now know that the fight looks different.  And though it may not be the neighbor I know that is dying, it is still my neighbor, my community member, my fellow American. It is time to stop the complacency, to step out of the comfort zone we have settled into in the US – there is a fire in our house. Will you join the fight this time? Will you someday be able to tell your children, your nieces and nephews, your grandchildren, that you did something to stop injustice and inequality? It is time to step up, and right another wrong.  Let’s put this fire out.

Team Indy works for local veterans on MLK Day

AmeriCorps Team Indianapolis spent Martin Luther King Jr. Day serving local veterans and their families in Indianapolis.  The Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation (HVAF) is dedicated to eliminating homelessness for veterans and families through prevention, education, supportive services and advocacy.  Two of the supportive services offered by this non-profit organization are a food pantry and clothing donation center.

The AmeriCorps team worked to help sort donations and organize the contents of these service centers.  It was incredible to think of the volume of goods moving into this community resource.  But it was even more astounding when we realized the amount of goods moving out.  The HVAF is an invaluable resource to the Indianapolis community.  It is just one example of how service for a single group of individuals can have a widespread impact on an entire community.  By reaching out to not only veterans, but also their families, the HVAF has an impact that reaches far beyond the material resources it provides.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly… This is the interrelated structure of reality.”  Team Indy continues to explore and contribute to this interconnectedness by remaining involved and engaged in our AmeriCorps service.

AmeriCorps Week – Team Detroit Looks To Its Roots (Part 3)

The final part of our AmeriCorps Week piece covers three former members of Team Detroit: Carrie A Rheingans, Sheyonna Watson and David Perrett.

Name of Alum: Carrie A Rheingans

Year Served: 2008-2009

Placement:

HIV/AIDS Resource Center (HARC)

How/why you got involved in the AIDS United program:

“I was an AmeriCorps member when I was a first-year graduate student at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. When looking for jobs to have while in school, I knew I wanted to do something that would complement my education. I was also required to have an internship as part of my graduate program, but the three-month timeframe seemed too short to make a real difference in my host agency. I then heard that the AIDS United National Direct AmeriCorps program was approximately the same timeline as the academic year, so I decided to apply. I was also familiar with the program through previous members that had been placed at HARC, where I had worked for nearly two years before becoming an AmeriCorps member.”

Host Agency Duties/Responsibilities:

“At HARC, I was a Prevention Specialist. I did HIV outreach, education, and testing, and I was our only Spanish-speaking HIV test counselor at the time. I also represented HARC on a number of community coalitions, including the county-wide World AIDS Week committee and the Spanish Healthcare Outreach Collaborative. During this time, I also helped the Campaign to End AIDS develop their 2009 Youth Action Institute, which trains young people on advocacy techniques that help end AIDS. I also helped the agency lay the groundwork for its social media use.”

Favorite Part of the Service Year:

“I had a lot of fun working with my team, and getting to compare experiences during our fifth days. It was nice to hear what challenges and successes my teammates had at their agencies, and getting new ideas for how to do things at my agency. Our long-term project was pretty fun too: we worked with a residential setting for people affected by HIV to build a garden in their backyard. The residents helped design the garden, as well as plant it and then took over full management of the garden after it was complete.”

One 5th Day or Service Project That You Will Always Remember:

“We had a really fun time when we had our ‘Super Fifth Day’, where we helped organize Team Indy and Team Chicago to come to the western side of Michigan and have an all-day service project at a local AIDS organization there. We helped clean up a park as the project, but the most memorable part of the day was getting to hear how our colleagues’ experiences were going after about nine months of service. We had made friends with many of the team members on those two teams in particular, so it was great getting to see them again and to compare experiences.”

Is your employment related to your year of service?:

“The year right after my service year, I remained at HARC as a graduate intern for 16 hours per week. In that placement, I really focused on developing the organization’s social media strategy, as well as helping to apply for funding to do so. I also continued to represent HARC on community coalitions. A major project that happened at the agency right after my AmeriCorps year was over was to organize Michigan’s only public comment session to give input for the President’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy in November 2009. The Campaign to End AIDS wanted to be sure to hear from Michiganders about what should be included in a national strategy, and I organized an event in Ferndale that saw over 100 attendees give input, over 30 of whom spoke live on camera.”

Were you able to use your education reward?:

“I used my education award immediately after receiving it by applying it to my graduate education tuition.”

Have you participated in any AmeriCorps or volunteer related activities since your year of service?:

“I have continued my membership in various community coalitions that I was involved in while an AmeriCorps member, and I have since been one of the key founding members of Casa Latina, our community’s only Latin@-focused community center. I do not get paid for the work I do for Casa Latina, so it is all volunteer – approximately 10 hours per week. Additionally, I have interacted with a few of the AmeriCorps teams after my member year for various events.”

One Thing You Would Tell Someone Who Is Considering Joining AIDS United AmeriCorps:

“This AmeriCorps program is nearly full-time, so doing much else outside the program will take a lot of scheduling and must be flexible, because AmeriCorps really needs to be your first priority. It was very difficult for me, as a person who was in a graduate program, to prioritize AmeriCorps over my education. In the end, I was lucky to be able to balance my schoolwork and my member duties, but it was not easy. Also, I think that as an AmeriCorps member, you have a lot of opportunity to learn about many aspects of the field of HIV and AIDS, and that you should really take advantage of what’s available. AmeriCorps service can help you determine what direction you may want to go in for your career – just as it can help you determine what direction you do NOT want to go in.”

Describe the impact that your year of service had on you as an individual:

“I really learned how to work with diverse teams while I was in AmeriCorps. I’m not just talking about racially or ethnically diverse teams, but also teams where members had differing levels of familiarity with technology, academic backgrounds, life experiences, and knowledge of issues relating to HIV and AIDS. It was fascinating to hear about my teammates’ backgrounds, and I really learned a lot about how to work with folks who don’t necessarily think the same way I do. I also gained a much better understanding of Detroit, and I’m much more proud of it as Michigan’s first city. Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, I also really honed my time management skills.”

Interviewed by: Mike Wallace (Current Team Detroit Member)

Name of Alum: Sheyonna Watson

Year(s) Served: 2007-2008

Placement:

HIV/AIDS Resource Center

How/why you got involved in the AIDS United program:

“I served in AmeriCorps in undergrad at University of Michigan through the Michigan Community Service Corps. I enjoyed that experience and was interested in doing more AmeriCorps service through City Year and came across AIDS United AmeriCorps program (at the time National AIDS Fund) and applied. I did some HIV AIDS work at UofM for AIDS In Black and Brown (a program that focuses on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the African American and Latino community) and jumped at the opportunity to continue learning more about HIV and serving at risk communities.”

Host Agency Duties/Responsibilities:

“I served as Team Coordinator so my time was split at Michigan AIDS Coalition and the HIV/AIDS resource center. At MAC I organized team meetings, 5th days, and programs for AmeriCorps days of Service. I also collaborated with other AmeriCorps programs in the state of Michigan. At HARC, I was a prevention specialist and did HIV test counseling, HIV presentations at the local schools and universities, served on the outreach van, and worked with the Washtenaw Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network providing education to various faith communities about HIV/AIDS.”

Favorite Part of the Service Year:

“It’s hard to choose just one! Since I have to choose a favorite, I would say Super 5th Day was an amazing highlight to the year of service. We were able to serve with the Indy and Chicago team in South Bend Indiana. It was great to reunite with the teams we met at Pre-Service and serve in a different community.”

One 5th Day or Service Project That You Will Always Remember:

“I will always remember our Long Term Project. We did a project with MPowerment Detroit called “Operation Speak Out: Interpreting HIV/AIDS Through Art”. I loved doing the interviews with the young black MSM participants and seeing how they interpreted their understanding of HIV/AIDS in creative ways.”

Is your employment related to your year or service?:

“Yes! After serving in AmeriCorps, I remained in the HIV/AIDS field as a volunteer at HARC and at WIHAN. I also completed my Master of Divinity program, received an advanced certificate of business management from Washtenaw Community College, and taught pre-school. In 2010 I was hired at HARC as a case manager for their Direct Care department.”

Were you able to use your education reward?:

“Yes! I definitely used my education reward. I used it toward tuition for graduate school at Ashland Theological Seminary and at Washtenaw Community College.  Currently, I’m using the last bit of the education award for loan payments.”

Have you participated in any AmeriCorps or volunteer related activities since your year of service? :

“I still volunteer as an HIV test counselor for special events, and do education workshops with faith communities.”

One Thing You Would Tell Someone Who Is Considering Joining AIDS United AmeriCorps:

“Do it! AmeriCorps is a great opportunity for personal and professional development. You will create great connections and expand your network. Anyone joining AmeriCorps should capitalize on opportunities to collaborate with other AmeriCorps groups, HIV/AIDS agencies, and other AIDS United Teams.”

Describe the impact that your year of service had on you as an individual:

“My year of service was an amazing experience. It opened up doors for me professionally and gave me all the tools I needed to be in the HIV/AIDS field. AmeriCorps provided a good foundation of HIV training and expanded my understanding of the HIV/AIDS Community. I learned so much about the LGBTQ community, engaging at risk populations in outreach, and how to interact with a diverse population.”

Interviewed by: Mike Wallace (Current Team Detroit Member)


Name of Alum: David Perrett

Year Served: 2007-2008

Placement:

Mpowerment Detroit

How/Why you got involved in the AIDS United program:

“David got involved in the AIDS United Program to increase his knowledge and experience in the HIV/AIDS fields. During his service year the program was called “Caring Counts”. With his experience of working with a nationally known local outreach group called Young Brother United (YBU), his passion for helping his community became priority and pushed him to care far beyond his foresight.”

Host Agency Duties/Responsibilities:

Administration/Reception duties

Manage/Create long- term and short- term program enhancements

Attend local and National HIV/STD Conferences

Create and Execute long-term Team/Community Service Projects

Perform Club/Community Outreach, Facilitate Group Sessions

Recruit Volunteer/Participants for Activities/Events.

Visual Marketing (Flyer, Internet, Slogan’s, Posters, etc..)

Event Planning

Favorite Part of the Service Year:

David’s favorite moment of his service year is Pre and Post service, not for obvious reasons. David enjoyed the Pre/Post more importantly for the opportunity to meet new people with the same goal/passion and actually bond with them. In addition he was afforded the opportunity to see another part of this country that he might not have had the chance to otherwise.

One 5th Day or Service Project That You Will Always Remember:

His most memorable 5th day would be the day his team got together and renovated /organized a local agency (Latino Family Services). It was so fun for him because they played dress-up in the some of the donated clothing and in the end it was so appreciated by the LFS Staff.

Is your employment related to your year or service?:

Presently he is a Program Coordinator at the agency (Mpowerment).

Were you able to use the education reward?:

The education award assisted him greatly. At one point he said he was homeless after relocating to Chicago for school and modeling. The education award not only helped him with enrollment but it also balance expenses for housing.

Have you participated in any AmeriCorps or volunteer related activities since your year of service? :

David has not volunteered specifically with any AmeriCorps teams, but he does volunteer with multiple initiatives, boards, youth agencies and campaigns.

One Thing You Would Tell Someone Who Is Considering Joining AIDS United AmeriCorps:

He would say remember to keep an open mind and be prepared to take on risks yourself.  We all have special skills/talents and AmeriCorps can benefit from them and vice versa, so leave the self doubt at the door.

Describe the impact that your year of service had on you as an individual:

It really challenged him as a strong willed, strong minded and independent individual. In ways where he was used to working successfully alone; he had to learn how to ask for help. In the end he learned that asking for help did not mean that you were HELPLESS!

Interviewed by: Kennard Poole (Current Team Detroit Member)

Want to see what the current team is up to? https://www.facebook.com/TeamDetroit Check out our Facebook page!

AmeriCorps Week – Team Detroit Looks To Its Roots (Part 2)

Part two of our AmeriCorps Week piece covers three former members of Team Detroit: Melissa McDaniel, Felisia Byrd and Darthanian “Dart” Nichols.

Name of Alum: Melissa McDaniel

Year(s) Served: 2001-2002 & 2002-2003

Placement:

Team Coordinator for two years. First year: Latino Family Services (LFS) Second year: MAPP

How/Why you got involved in the AIDS United program: Melissa always gravitated toward community service. Prior to AmeriCorps National AIDS Fund (NAF, now AIDS United), she participated in the state program and wanted to give back and have more experience working with the community. Melissa found out about the program from a member through a HIV 101 at an adolescent homeless shelter. She mentioned that the state program didn’t feel much like a team, but the NAF Program felt like a team. She also mentioned that the Detroit team has always been very diverse in many ways.

Host Agency Duties/Responsibilities:

While at LFS, Melissa participated in the Needle Exchange Program (while adhering to program guidelines), was a Counselor and Tester and planned all of her team’s Team Days. While at MAPP Melissa participated in sex education programs for youth, online outreach, event planning, HIV 101’s and Counseling and Testing in bars.

Favorite Part of the Service Year:

The people that Mellissa met along the way were her favorite part of her service year. She also had an emotional connection with all the team members.

One 5th Day or Service Project That You Will Always Remember:

Melissa remembers painting the walls of LFS (beautiful artwork). During her first year of service she also remembers their Team Day at Head Start. Kids were at Head Start, and the time members spent connecting with the children and sorting clothes was very special.

Is your employment related to your year or service?:

Melissa continued to work in the HIV/ AIDS field. She spent some time working at Community Health Awareness Group (CHAG). She is now the Supervisor of Case Management at Health Emergency Life Line Program (HELP). She is also starting the online outreach for MSM’s and early intervention services. She has been working at HELP for 5 years.

Were you able to use the education reward?:

Melissa was able to use both of her awards for her MA program. Her program matched the awards.

Have you participated in any AmeriCorps or volunteer related activities since your year of service? :

Melissa has not been involved as much as she’d like to be as of late because there is a gap between current members and alum, but when she had members at HELP she was involved.

One Thing You Would Tell Someone Who Is Considering Joining AIDS United AmeriCorps:

“If you’re gonna be in, be all in. And be open for new experiences.”

Describe the impact that your year of service had on you as an individual:

Melissa realized that who she was was more than good enough. To love her truth was freeing by watching the human struggle of people and the leadership in the HIV lesbian and gay community wasn’t going to change.

Interviewed by: Rachel Spruill (Current Team Detroit Member)



Name of Alum: Felisia Byrd

Year served: 2007-2008

Placement:

AIDS Partnership of Michigan

How/Why you got involved in the AIDS United program:

Felisia has always found a strong voice in volunteering. Since 1995 Felisia has been volunteering with Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit. In 2005 she joined a pro-literacy program under the AmeriCorps umbrella and further developed her passion for service.  After learning more about the risk of HIV in her community, she served with AIDS United Team Detroit 2007-08.

Host Agency Duties/Responsibilities:

As an AmeriCorps member at AIDS Partnership of Michigan, Felisia was a certified HIV test counselor. She also answered anonymous questions for the agency’s HIV hotline and provided HIV prevention information to clients and the public through community events.

Favorite Part of the Service Year:

Felisia always looked forward to team 5th days. She enjoyed the opportunities to learn about other nonprofit agencies in Detroit. In addition to making connections with local agencies, volunteering was also a chance to meet like-mined people.

One 5th Day or Service Project that you will always remember:

Felisia’s favorite service project was working with the Alternatives for Girls Christmas party. This event was put on to celebrate the commitment of the women to enter a safe community and exit sex work. Felisia remembers how rewarding it was to see each woman’s self-value reaffirmed.

Is your employment related to your year or service?

Felisia applied for her current position at CareFirst Community Health Services in 2008 after her AmeriCorps service year. But it was not until 2010 when she received a call offering her employment. During the interim, Felisia attended school at Detroit Business Institute to become a Registered Medical Assistant. She continued volunteering at the Joy-Southfield Free Health Clinic. Now as an employee of CareFirst, Felisia is an Early Intervention Specialist, a position in which she continues the HIV work that she began during her service year, including HIV testing, prevention education, and connecting people to treatment and care.

Were you able to use the education reward?

Felisia used her AmeriCorps education award to pay off education loans from Davenport University where she received her Associates and Bachelors degrees.

Have you participated in any AmeriCorps or volunteer related activities since your year of service?

Felisia has continued volunteering regularly since her year of service. In addition to her work with the free clinic and Children’s Hospital, she has participated in AIDS Walk Detroit and assisted with Detroit DIFFA (Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS) event.

One thing you would tell someone who is considering joining AIDS United AmeriCorps:

Felisia says that it is important for new AU members to remember to be yourself and to be true to your experiences. Also she recommends that one approach the service year with an open mind and sincerity, as there is much to learn from the clients that we serve.

Describe the impact that your year of service had on you as an individual:

Felisia says that her year of service helped develop her self-awareness as she faced new challenges. She credits her service as making her more compassionate and helping her realize not to take anything for granted.

Interviewed by: Anthony McClafferty (Current Team Detroit Member)


Dart (Pictured Right) with Terry Ryan (Team Detroit City Supervisor)

Name of Alum: Darthanian “Dart” Nichols

Year(s) Served: 2006-2007 & 2007-2008

Placement:

First year: Affirmations Second year: Community Health Awareness Group (CHAG)

How/Why you got involved in the AIDS United program: Dart was a part of a population that was at high risk for HIV, and he was a CSW at the time, he knew his risk was great. He found out about National AIDS Fund (Now AIDS United) while he was a client at Ruth Ellis and saw a flyer. A member of the AmeriCorps team that served at Ruth Ellis also told him to apply.

Host Agency Duties/Responsibilities:

While at Affirmations, Dart helped to establish the HIV prevention program from the ground up. He also established the HIV Hotline by providing HIV testing and counseling dates times and answering all HIV related questions. He facilitated “jam sessions” for young men called, “Swallow This” and “jam sessions” for young women called, “Young Women of Change” and “Youth Against AIDS.” In addition he orchestrated several fundraisers to raise money for the AIDS Walk:  “22 Pledge, Sing for a Cause: Karaoke Night, and Sexapalusa.” While at CHAG he was a HIV Test Counselor, worked on the Needle Exchange Program (Life Points, while adhering to program guidelines) and participated in Outreach.

Favorite Part of the Service Year:

At the end of his first year during end of service when they have people from each team speak he watched as a member of team DC spoke about the challenges of serving in a convalescent home, where people were in advanced stages of HIV and nearing death. It was then that he realized that, while his task of telling people that they were HIV positive was difficult, it was not as hard as caring for people in their later stages in life with HIV. It was then that he knew he had to be prepared for both the result and the end result.

One 5th Day or Service Project That You Will Always Remember:

The LTP for the first year-Dart and his team members turned the basement of Ozone House in Ann Arbor into a recreational room.  Also, the LTP for the second year of service, Dart participated in Operation Speak Out with his team members.

Is your employment related to your year or service?:

Dart is now an employee of CHAG. In addition to the programs he participated in while an AmeriCorps member, he facilitates their new program Safety Counts, which is a risk reduction IDU program.

Were you able to use the education reward?:

Dart was able to use some of his education awards toward tuition in higher education.

Have you participated in any AmeriCorps or volunteer related activities since your year of service? :

Dart has participated every year with the current AmeriCorps Team for the MLK Day of Service, and had gone to all of the team LTP project events, if they had them.

One Thing You Would Tell Someone Who Is Considering Joining AIDS United AmeriCorps:

“It is not for the faint of heart”

Describe the impact that your year of service had on you as an individual:

AmeriCorps has propelled him in his service as a pastor. He is now able to incorporate HIV into his position as a pastor.

Interviewed by: Rachel Spruill (Current Team Detroit Member)

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