Browsing Category: AmeriCorps

Indy AIDS Walk 2011

“Why should society feel responsible only for the education of children, and not for the education of all adults of every age?” ~Erich Fromm

Education is the backboard of awareness.  Awareness is the levy that lifts prejudices away from the minds of individuals.  That awareness and education was ever present at Indianapolis’s AIDS walk 2011.  The sun was out, the tents were raised and the masses marched on in order to show their support and dedication to battling this entity we call AIDS.  That Saturday morning brought people from many different places in life; but all to come together and show their support for fighting HIV/AIDS.  It was an amazing feeling to be able to look out and see quilts recognizing those who had lost the battle to HIV, but also to see men and women fighting the battle at that very moment–while showing an inter-strength that blazed across the park.  The one idea that constantly came to mind during the walk was that HIV doesn’t discriminate.  It doesn’t target just one population or age group;  it is an equal opportunity virus.

The beautiful thing that comes out of all the destruction that HIV can lead to is the simple fact that you are never alone.  You don’t have to go to a certain part of the world to find others that are struggling with the same thing; you can walk down your street.  This walk wasn’t just about the money that was being raised, or the gathering of many businesses–it was the gathering of a community.  That community is the support system of many individuals in the great city of Indianapolis.  For Team Indy, we are blessed to see little working parts of this incredible system during our four days of the week; but what a true honor it was to be in place where all of those little parts came together to form that community.

–Brittany Sichting

Team Indianapolis participates in correctional facility’s inaugural AIDS Walk

Team Indianapolis participated in the first ever New Castle Correctional Facility AIDS Walk on August 27th. The event was organized through Step Up, Inc.’s Tommy Chittenden and the Correctional Facility Chaplain, Joy Pinegar. Each Team Member took a moment to reflect on the time we spent talking with these men, and below are those comments:

“I attended the Prison AIDS Walk at the New Castle Correction Facility with my AmeriCorps Team Indy. We were there to provide support and hand out watermelon and water. When the walk began, the inmates who had volunteered to walk were grateful and appreciative of our presence. As a team, we cheered for them as they completed lap by lap. I remember two inmates whose faces lit up every time we clapped and cheered for them. It brought a sense of humility to know that simple gestures of kindness go a long way and we should never take for granted any support that we have in our individual lives. The day ended well where we were in turn fed hamburgers, hot dogs, chips and punch. I am glad I had the chance to be part of their lives.”

“Handing out watermelon seems like a simple task-one that would take little time and be another piece to a good meal. What I experienced by handing out watermelon was more of a great thankfulness and joy. The men we served were thankful to have fresh fruit before them, and welcomed the fact that we did not have utensils or plates. How beautiful it is to see the simplicity in the watermelon, and to apply that idea to life. I learned that I could be so appreciative of what I had, and that I can see these little things in everyday life.”

“Assisting with the New Castle Correctional Facility’s AIDS Walk was an experience I will not soon forget. Upon entering the facility and beginning work on the walk I quickly realized how different this experience was going to be than I had expected. In order to walk each of the men had given money from their commissary.  Because these men work for all that money or are given it by their family, I found this gesture to be quite the example of charity. After the walk had finished and the men were enjoying some watermelon and water we were able to get to know some of them. One man had been an AmeriCorps member and was very informed about the NGO community of Indianapolis, something I would have never expected. He reminded us to take every memory we can from this experience and to enjoy what this year provides. Other men were speaking about the AIDS quilt that the men in the facility were making, I believe they said there were above 75 squares already made, a number I never would have thought. In the end, I am very happy to have been able to assist in the first of hopefully a new tradition of correctional facility AIDS walks. Meeting and speaking with so many men was an experience I value; it allowed myself and, I believe, my fellow teammates to see a side of these men that is not normally recognized but is important to grow for the better of everyone.”

“I have never had experience working with a prison population, and I have to admit that I was slightly apprehensive about how the men would react to us. However, I was floored at how friendly, polite, and thankful the men acted toward each of us. It surprised me with how quickly many of the men opened up to us. One man in particular sticks out in my mind; he asked several of us for our reasons for joining the AIDS United AmeriCorps program. While we all have our own reasons, none of us mentioned knowing anyone infected or affected by HIV or AIDS prior to joining the organization. He then shared with us that his reason for walking that day was because in the last year, he had an uncle and a cousin both died from AIDS-related complications. This story impacted me so much because it made me realize just how much this preventable disease can ravage an individual life – even if a person is not infected. This man’s story opened my eyes to some of the non-clinical effects of the disease, and I am so grateful that he was kind enough to share his story.”

This experience was an opportunity for team members to reach out and engage a population that is not usually afforded the opportunity to contribute to non-profits and charities. Working with Tommy and Joy, we hope to engage more Indiana prisons and future AmeriCorps teams in many more of these events.

Team Indy’s Living History Project

by Nate Mensah,  AIDS United AmeriCorps Team Indianapolis

On September 17, Team Indianapolis participated in the Living History program at the Richard L. Roudebush Veteran Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in Indianapolis. This project allowed the team to interview patients and learn about their life stories. The VAMC provides acute and chronic care for veterans as well as serving as a rehabilitation facility. This was a special event that was first proposed as an idea by Jason Grisell (Program Manager of the Health Foundation of Greater Indianapolis) as a 9/11 service project. In order to maximize the number of patients interviewed, Team Indy volunteered along with other AmeriCorps Alumni, AmeriCorps VISTA members, and Public Allies.

Our visit was special because many of us bonded with the patients we interviewed. The volunteers decided to pair up and interview in teams.  It would be difficult to say who enjoyed chatting more: the volunteers or the patients. Our conversations ranged from the standard topics of interests in music, movies, and foods, to some very unexpected yet entertaining topics. A couple of our team members had a full lecture on the harmful aspects of aspartame and the benefits of eating raw vegetables! Others encountered some powerful emotions when the veterans reminisced about family members and friends.

The goal of this project was to learn more about the patients, and to determine if there are ways the hospital can improve the level of care the patient is receiving by meeting an unmet need that they aren’t aware of. It was fascinating to have conversations with these individuals, and here how their time serving our country changed their lives. All of the volunteers enjoyed learning about the patients, and by the day’s end, numerous patients were very pleased to have the chance to talk with new people as well (even on a Saturday morning!). In fact, they were hopeful and eager for us to return to do the event again. It meant a lot to us that the patients seemed to truly enjoy talking with us.

As a thank you for allowing them to be interviewed, we provided a care package consisting of a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, a journal, a pen, and an activity booklet with crossword puzzles. Even though we were only there for a few hours, we know of the long-lasting impact we have made on the veterans, and fully enjoyed doing so!

AmeriCorps Week in Tulsa

For AmeriCorps week 2011, Team Tulsa headed west to Clara Waters Community Correctional Facility in Oklahoma City. The facility, which sits right next to the biggest theme park in Oklahoma, holds about 275 men. It is a step below minimum security (note the word community in the title) and the offenders are allowed to walk around freely for the most part.

Team Tulsa headed down with former AmeriCorps member, Michelle Sullivan, for a health fair at the correctional center. Every one of our host sites was represented at the health fair along with many other organizations, including the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Guiding Right, Inc. and many more. The most popular booth seemed to be the ones that offered either candy or essential hygiene products, like toothbrushes and toothpaste, but offenders were encouraged to visit all the booths.

During the health fair, many of the booth representatives taught classes in another building. Our own Danielle Matheny taught a packed class about Hepatitis C transmission, prevention, testing and treatment. The offenders were offered a cookie and a toothbrush if they attended a class, an offer which many took advantage of.

Overall, the health fair was a major success. The offenders were able to socialize, snack and gain valuable knowledge about their health, both inside the facility and out. The health fair also gave Team Tulsa the opportunity to see inside one of Oklahoma’s many correctional facilities, and hear the stories of the men who reside there.

HIV Theatre in New Mexico for AmeriCorps Week

On May 19 and May 20, Team New Mexico presented Voices behind the Virus: A performance based on the true stories of New Mexicans living with HIV.  The performance took place at Warehouse 21 in Santa Fe, and at the Filling Station in Albuquerque, and was part of a series of events for AmeriCorps week.   The events both featured free, anonymous HIV testing, with rapid testing sponsored by Southwest CARE Center at the Santa Fe performance, and testing sponsored by the HIV/AIDS Advocacy Network at the Albuquerque show.  We hosted receptions during both performances, with food sponsored by the New Mexico Commission for Community Volunteerism.

Tickets to the show were sold for a suggested donation of 10 to 15 dollars.  Proceeds were matched by AIDS United and went to benefit Camp Corazones, a Santa Fe camp for children affected and infected by HIV that recently began experiencing financial difficulties.  Much of the HIV/AIDS community in New Mexico had rallied to support Camp Corazones and we thought this was a great cause for our performance.

Devin Peterson of Santa Fe Habitat for Humanity

From left to Right: Southwest CARE case manager Adam Lord, AmeriCorps Volunteer Emily Knittle, and Southwest Care case manager Chris Weber

Voices began as an idea to portray first person narratives of people living with HIV through monologues style theatre.  Our goal was not only to give voice to those infected by HIV, but also to educate, create awareness, and provide insight and perspective in to their lives.

Robert Sturm of the New Mexico Community AIDS Partnership and Jewel Cabeza de Vaca of Camp Corazones

Maggie Cunha, AIDS United and AmeriCorps volunteers AJ Ben and Amy Rumack

We began by conducting interviews with community members, and compiled portions of those interviews verbatim into a script.  We were also fortunate enough to have the assistance of Skye Fort and Diana Delgado, two UNM Theatre and Dance students who took the script and turned it into a performance.  Skye and Diana began rehearsals about one month before our scheduled performances, and were able to develop and create several original pieces inspired not only by peoples’ stories, but also by prevention materials, condoms and HIV testing.  The performance featured several short skits on condoms including a demonstration, and also rapid testing being acted out on stage.  It also dealt with the issue of medication and HIV treatment, and illustrated the difficulties and overwhelming nature of treatment.  Several stories were told through monologues which were broken up into parts during the performance.  The stories and performance pieces ranged from powerful, emotional and thought provoking, to inspirational and light-hearted.

AmeriCorps volunteers Tim Zaccaria, AJ Ben, and Amy Rumack

From left to right: Craig McAdams, Drew Morrison, Tori Corcoran, Diana Delgado, Laurel LeDoux, Nate Warren, Christie Carter, Skye Fort

It was amazing to listen to some of the feedback we received from those who attended, particularly those whose stories were used in the performance.  Since the performance, we have received interest from other organizations interested in hosting a performance of Voices.  We filmed both the performance and rehearsals, and we plan to distribute the video among prevention programs around the state, as well as to other organizations interested in using the performance to educate about HIV.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who was willing to sit down with us and share their story.  We would also like to thank our producer Skye Fort and director Diana Delgado; as well as the actors: Nate Warren, Drew Morrison, Christie Carter, Craig McAdams, and Tori Corcoran; and crew: David Torres and Joe Montoya.  We would also like to thank the New Mexico Commission on Community Volunteerism for sponsoring our event.

Team Carolina Joins the Fight Against Hunger for AmeriCorps Week

“I haven’t met you yet, have I?” a man cordially asked me, as I ventured onto the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s Raleigh, N.C. farm, along with dozens of fellow AmeriCorps members.

He was correct. We had not met yet, so I introduced myself as Denechia Powell of Georgia, proud member of AIDS United AmeriCorps Team Carolina. We shook hands, he learned that I was a Georgia Bulldog, and I learned he was a Tar Heel devotee.

It was not until later that I realized the man I had chatted with was Mr. Bob Eaves, husband of Governor Bev Perdue and the First Gentleman of North Carolina. Mr. Eaves had been invited to the farm in honor of AmeriCorps Week, which was observed this year from May 14 to May 21, 2011. AmeriCorps Week gives AmeriCorps members a chance to come together and show local, state, and federal government officials how invaluable our service is to our communities.

AIDS United AmeriCorps Team Carolina, along with other local groups, including Access JobLink AmeriCorps and Public Allies North Carolina, gathered at the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s farm on Thursday, May 19, 2011 to get our hands dirty planting vegetables. We learned that the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle strives to end hunger in the community by recovering food from local donors (6.7 million pounds of food are projected to be recovered in 2011). The innovative non-profit operates a farm in Raleigh and another in Carrboro, N.C., where produce is grown to be sold at local farmer’s markets and at-risk youth are instructed on how to develop their own gardens.

Our time on the farm not only provided us with an opportunity to give back to our community, but also a chance to meet other AmeriCorps members and share our experiences. We also learned eye-opening facts about farming. For example, did you know that only three percent of the population in the United States grows its own food? You really do learn something new every day as an AmeriCorps member.

As we surveyed the rows of freshly planted vegetables at the end of our day of service, Team Carolina was amazed at how much we were able to accomplish in such a short period of time. It is our hope that our service project, along with the many others completed across the country during AmeriCorps Week, serves as proof that a world without AmeriCorps would be a bleak one indeed.