Browsing Category: AmeriCorps

Working Towards a Healthier NOLA

Can you believe it’s almost halfway through April? Yeah, that’s what Team NOLA is feeling as this month flies by. March was a busy one for us. With countless meetings, Walgreens testing, Long Term Project, and several other events (cough cough Mardi Gras) – we barely had time to breathe. March was also Healthy Futures Month. We spent the month of March and beginning of April focusing on what we could do as a team to promote healthy living in New Orleans. Below is a snapshot of our “extra healthy” month:

1) Walgreens testing — This has been such an amazing partnership. Every other Thursday, the four of us head to one of the two Walgreens to test for four hours. We now have laminated signs in each store (yeah, we’re fancy) and two testing spaces. The testing has gone fabulously, especially since we started using INSTI, a 60-second finger-prick test. Find out your status in one minute- um, how could you say NO? More and more people are getting tested each week –and we have officially memorized all of the aisles in Walgreens.


Students learn about clinics in their area

2) Syphilis Outreach — This is as fun as it sounds (well, fun for us). During the month of March we did outreach in three different locations across New Orleans. The purpose of outreach was to inform the community about free to low-cost testing resources. We also had quite a few conversations about syphilis itself (extra fun!) including the signs and symptoms, local infection rates, risks of no treatment, and treatment options. Needless to say we all have some entertaining stories.


C.H.A.T. talks with students about their program

3) Health Fair- On March 19th Landry-Walker High School held a Health Extravaganza and invited our partner organizations, NO/AIDS Task Force (NATF) and Priority Health Care. Rebecca and I paired up with C.H.A.T. (Curbing HIV/AIDS Transmission), a youth program through NATF, to give away awesome prizes. We managed the “sex education table” where students could spin our wheel for a sexual health-related question. We had a blast! We talked with about 80 kids – all of whom knew little to nothing about HIV and STIs. The students were not shy with their questions which made it way more fun for us.  Overall, it was a well-planned and informative event. There was hula-hooping, food, games, prizes and more!



Students show off their sweet hula-hooping skills



From left- Louie, Lauren, Rebecca, and Michael setting up the tent for NYHAAD

4) NYHAAD- My favorite event in the last month or so was definitely National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (mouthful, right?). For NYHAAD, two of our placements hosted a testing/education event (C.H.A.T. Project & The Movement). We had free condoms, educational games, a photo booth… and even fried chicken! The testing event lasted 5 hours so it could accommodate those just getting out of school. We set up a booth outside of The Movement’s office- which happens to be a pretty busy corner- to attract attention to our testing event. A total of 20 people got tested, but plenty of people stopped by to learn….and of course grab food!

You may ask- what was the best part of your day, Helene? — JUST DANCE. At the end of the day, all four of us got to play the “Just Dance” game on the PS3 at the office. We had quite the audience. Hopefully all of the dancing evidence is burned. ;) Rebecca took home the crown of “best Team NOLA dancer” and our sweaty sad attempt at dancing ended in the cutest team picture of all time (see below).


Louie modeling next to our sex education wheel


Louie and I rocking The Movement’s photo booth for NYHAAD


The cutest team photo ever- courtesy of our city supervisor


5) Long Term Project- So this is ACTUALLY the most exciting thing of the month- and the months to come! Our team is working on a website to help link individuals, especially youth, to medical care. Linkage to care is an incredibly important issue nationwide- but also in our own backyard. We want this website to be an important and holistic resource for someone who is newly diagnosed with HIV, who wants to get back into care, or who has just moved to NOLA and needs resources. Receiving an HIV-positive diagnosis can be overwhelming. We want this website to be not only informative, but also encouraging and personal. During the month of March, we presented the website to several committees and had countless meetings.

To Team NOLA, this website is at the core of our “Healthy Futures” month. We made sure it was mobile-friendly, understandable, and discreet. Although it is a work-in-progress, we hope this website empowers youth to take charge of their own health and even inspire their peers. Stay tuned for the website launch! We can’t wait to share it and get some feedback. :)


Please excuse my incredibly long post this month. Healthy Futures month had us busy- but also I have troubling shutting up. If you have any questions -or just want to say hi to Team NOLA- our email is !



Month of March in Cleveland

Team Cleveland kept busy during the month of March with getting the word out about our Long Term Project plans and the AmeriCorps program.

On March 9, we participated in an annual Cleveland event called The Tolerance Fair. The event was hosted by a group called Honor Good Deeds and is held annually to raise awareness about differences and diversity. Different organizations from around the Cleveland area set up tables and share information about the work that they do. This year it was estimated that about 4,000 people attended the event.  We were there with the AIDS Funding Collaborative table getting the word out about HIV and our Americorps program. Many people were interested in what we do and what AmeriCorps is. As members, we were able to make great connections in the community for places to volunteer at, do HIV-related work such as presentations at, and one member was asked to give a talk about the AmeriCorps program at an organization with clients who might be interested in applying. All in all, it was a great opportunity to speak with other organizations and community members who are dedicated to making positive change while we got the word out about who the AIDS United Team Cleveland is and what we do.

Setting up at the Tolerance Fair

March also marked the month in which we finalized plans for our Long Term Project.  Through attending local meetings in the HIV community and passing surveys out to consumers, we realized as a team we saw a need for some sort of retreat or gathering for people living with HIV in the Cleveland area. We decided we will host a day long wellness empowerment workshop for PLWHA. At this event, people will have the opportunity to participate in facilitated workshops related to empowerment, wellness, and overall well-being and community-building. We began publicizing this event on March 19 at a community briefing held by the AIDS Funding Collaborative. This event was attended by other people who work in the HIV community here in Cleveland. We spoke briefly about who we are as Americorps members and what our program is about. We then made an announcement about our Long Term Project plans, while passing out flyers that we had created about our event. We have also launched a GoFundMe website to raise awareness about our event while also fundraising.

Long Term Project informational flyer

Long Term Project informational flyer

In all, we look forward to continuing our work on our project as we get the word out to the community!

Team Chicago: Housing IS Healthcare

While treatment has evolved to the point that HIV/AIDS can be a manageable chronic illness for most, unstable housing severely threatens that reality. Homelessness impedes access to healthcare, leaves one vulnerable to hazardous health conditions, and undermines the stability necessary for a consistent treatment regimen. And

Our Donation Drive Poster, designed by team member Eric

Our Donation Drive Poster, designed by team member Eric

the number of those affected by the intersection of HIV and homelessness is alarming. Approximately 4 percent of the homeless population of the United States is believed to be HIV-positive, and the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that 50 percent of the 1.3 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States are at risk of becoming homeless. The severity of homelessness in the HIV community is very real.

Team Chicago’s members are grateful to be placed at agencies aware that housing IS healthcare and that homelessness is a critical issue for the HIV/AIDS community. That is why, for our long term service project, we wanted to serve this cause and to benefit agencies providing housing opportunities to the HIV/AIDS community. We’ve decided to raise funds and supplies for the housing programs at The AIDS Foundation of Chicago and Chicago House and Social Services Agency, which collectively provide housing to over 800 people living with HIV/AIDS and their families.

Specifically, our fundraising efforts are focused on providing new home, cleaning, and hygiene supplies to newly housed HIV-positive clients. While government funds are more readily available for groceries and clothing vouchers, few dollars are earmarked for these everyday essentials that are part of a healthy life and home. It is our hope that, through gathering these supplies and funds, we can help our agencies provide the stability and environments necessary for our clients to live full, healthy lives.

Supplies collected at one of our sites, Bonaventure House

Supplies collected at one of our sites, Bonaventure House

Our team has planned a series of fundraisers over the next several weeks, but for AmeriCorps’ “Healthy Futures Month,” we decided to host a donation drive at our area agencies. Through posters, social media, email blasts, and word of mouth, we encouraged employees of our host agencies to bring in hygiene and cleaning supplies to benefit our clients. Check out the photo to see some of our spoils!

Filled Bellies, Happy Bellies.

To end the month with a bang, Team Indy organized and implemented our very own Food Drive benefiting the Damien Center.  The Damien Center is a local AIDS Service Organization focusing on empowering clients across Central Indiana affected by HIV to move forward in life with dignity. This community organization provides care coordination, supportive and medical services.  A pivotal department within the Damien Center is the Coby Palmer Food Pantry.  When diet is critical in maintaining a strong and healthy immune system, the Damien Center serves as a community leader in both providing educational instruction and providing supplemental nutrition.

Healthy Competition: Team Indy’s Penny War

Healthy Competition — The Battle Between the ASOs

For Team Indy’s long term project, we are creating a PSA for National HIV Testing Day in June. To help cover the costs of the PSA, Team Indy came up with several creative fundraisers. The month of March, was dedicated to a Penny War between the ASOs in Indianapolis.  Penny wars are an easy way to receive donations, while spurring healthy competition.

point value

The rules behind our Penny War were quite simple. Each ASO was given 2 jars: a “Penny Jar” and a “Sabotage Jar.” ASO’s were encouraged to put pennies and bills into their penny jar and put quarters, nickels, and dimes in the sabotage jar. Pennies and bills counted towards an ASOs score, but silver counts against one’s score.  When silver was placed in the sabotage jar, it could be used to attack another ASO, causing them to lose points. We had 8 ASOs participate, even one ASO that does not have an AmeriCorps members at it.

DSCN0579 The competition was fierce. Our AmeriCorps members at the Damien Center presented the penny war at a staff meeting. By the end of the meeting there was over $130 in the penny jar!!  And that was just day one. By the end of the first week, the team had raised $394.33!!

As the weeks progressed, allegiances formed. Several ASO’s teamed up to sabotage the   Damien Center. These ASOs collectively brought in over $220 (-22,000 points) in silver to sabotage the Damien Center. The Damien Center executive director did not take this too kindly. Once learning that the Damien Center had fallen into third place, he pledged to his staff that if they raised $100, he would match their collective $100 donation. This did the trick. The Damien Center staff easily met that match and brought in more than $300 that week.

The AmeriCorps members were responsible for motivating their ASO’s to keep fighting and keep donating. Members updated their agencies with weekly emails. Some even got creative with song lyrics. Here is an email that went out to all of the Damien Center staff after rebounding back into first place during week 3.

Sing to Queen’s — “We are the Champions”

I’ve paid my pennies
Time after time
I’ve done my counting
But committed no crime
And bad sabotages
I’ve made a few
I’ve had my share of penny grime
left on my fingers
But I’ve come through

And we mean to go on and on and on and on

We are the champions (for this week) – my friends
And we’ll keep on donating
Till the end
We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions of the ASOs.

 After 4 intense weeks of competition, the Damien Center came in first place with 37,783 points, closely followed by LifeCare, who brought in more than $200 in the last week. In total the penny war brought in close to $1800!!!!  Team Indy was shocked with the success of the penny war. Their initial goal was to raise just $200, which was easily met in the first week.

The penny war brought new energy to the team. They bonded while counting thousands of pennies and relished in their success. The competition also enabled the AmeriCorps members to interact with people they normally don’t within their agencies and with other agencies.  The Penny War showed that a little healthy competition can spur teamwork, renewed energy, and a lot of pennies.

Penny wars for the win!!!


For our long term project, Team Detroit has partnered with Teen HYPE, a community-based organization that strives to “empower urban youth to thrive while strengthening their communities.” In our work at our host agencies, each of us has witnessed the need for investment in Detroit’s youth and we wanted to help Teen HYPE expand its capacity to do so. Teen HYPE was established in 2004 to empower youth through education, leadership development, and service. Teen HYPE provides diverse programs for  youth.  These include an after-school tutoring program, STD and HIV prevention education and testing, teen pregnancy prevention, and the performing arts activities. Most importantly, Teen HYPE is a safe haven for young people when they have nowhere else to go.

To commemorate 20 years of AmeriCorps and kick-off our long-term project, we helped coordinate and assisted with Teen HYPE’s 10th annual play, “Secrets.” Every year, the youth at Teen HYPE write and perform a play, which is performed for thousands of students from the city of Detroit. The plays address topics that affect children and teenagers on a daily basis, though are not discussed openly due to social stigma. “Secrets” was about the problems young people encounter and how they hide them from their loved ones. “Secrets” portrayed characters struggling with illiteracy at the age of 16, not having enough food to eat, and taking care of their younger siblings because of absent parents. Two of the characters had survived sexual violence. When they attempted to hide their problems from their friends and families, they suffered consequences that included a nervous breakdown, failing grades, and social exclusion. The play showed how important it is for children and teenagers to share their experiences with others and seek help by displaying the positive support that is available within the Detroit community. Although the subject matter was serious, the playwrights used humor, music, and dance to keep their audience alert and engaged throughout, a difficult feat considering a majority of the audience were 13-18 years old.

Secrets shared by Teen HYPE youth

Secrets shared by Teen HYPE youth

Team Detroit contributed by calling every Detroit public school to arrange ticket purchasing and transportation for the students, in the weeks leading up to the play. To recruit volunteers, we arranged for the tickets to have space available on the back for people who were interested in volunteering in the future to write their contact information. We will be contacting them to see if they would be willing to be added to our volunteer pool. On the day of the play, we put together lunches for the students who attended, helped sell concessions and merchandise, and ushered people to their seats.

The most meaningful part of this event for me was watching the kids of Teen HYPE perform their own work. Though it was heartbreaking to know that most of them had drawn upon personal experiences when writing the play and performing, one could see how truly empowering  it was for them to tell the world what they deal with on a daily basis while continuing to dance, sing, and laugh.

The youth featured in the play

The youth featured in the play

My host agency runs a syringe exchange program for injection drug users in Detroit. When we have new participants, we ask them as part of the enrollment questionnaire how old they were when they first started taking drugs.  Many of them say they started at ages ranging from 12-17 years old. Obviously, I am not privy to all aspects of people’s lives and cannot make an accurate conclusion. But watching the kids perform made me wonder if the lives of our clients who started injecting drugs at a young age would be any different if they had had an opportunity to be a part of something like Teen HYPE.

The event was incredibly significant and meaningful, serving as a reminder of why we do what we do every day. We are excited to continue working with Teen HYPE and will use the energy from the play to carry us through to the end!

Kamran, Jerome, and Lindzy are excited for the play!

Kamran, Jerome, and Lindzy are excited for the play!