Browsing Category: AmeriCorps

The King In Our Midst: Team D.C. @ The National Cathedral

Team DC MLK Day 1It was quite fitting that Team D.C. did its MLK Day of Service at the Washington National Cathedral.  Ironically, a few days before the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., he spoke at the Cathedral’s pulpit on March 31, 1968, which happened to be his final sermon.  The title of his sermon was titled, “Remaining awake through a great revolution.”  To us, this speaks volumes. Right now, the AIDS epidemic is going through many changes and breakthroughs as it works to establish an AIDS-free generation.  It is very important that we continue to fight the fight and “remain awake” throughout what is taking place!  Like Martin Luther King, Jr. it is important to stand boldly and confidently in the things that you believe in if you want change to take place!

Team D.C. members started off their day of service at Soka Gakkai Buddhist Cultural Center, collecting clothing that were dropped off for a clothing drive.  There, we sorted and bagged the clothing that was dropped off by members of the community.

Team DC MLK Day 2Later on in the day, the rest of the members walked over to the National Cathedral where we talked to high school scholars about the importance of doing community service, especially when applying to college.  Each of us went around and talked about the AmeriCorps and what we did at each of our agencies.  It was exciting to talk with these young people because just a few years ago, we were in their shoes.  It is always good to share insight with youth who want to make a difference in their communities!  From there, we joined forces with the high school scholars and split up into groups.  Some of our team helped with the food drive, some ushered for the ceremony that was taking place in honor of Dr. King, and some helped sort out donated books that would be going to different organizations around D.C. that lacked resources!

The ceremony started off with a processional where I.J., Nia and Ryan were chosen to carry the donated food, clothes, and books to the altar.  Following that, lots of great performances ensued.  Dancers and drummers, gospel choirs, and spoken word artists from all over D.C. performed to give tribute to the legacy of Dr. King.  Through music and dance, each performer brought in a different aspect of the city’s rich heritage.

No matter if you were raking leaves, serving food, or reconstructing homes throughout your city, each service project reflects Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s love for service which promotes and uplifts unity and peace in our communities.  Now we must ask ourselves, what can we do and what must be done to promote HIV/AIDS awareness while still uplifting and uniting the communities that are being overlooked and ignored by society?

World AIDS Day in New Mexico

On this day of worldwide recognition for those living with and those who have already passed from HIV/AIDS, not to mention increasing numbers of HIV infection rates  amongst younger people, Team New Mexico was able to collaborate with the New Mexico Department of Health and the University of New Mexico LGBTQ Resource Center in Albuquerque to provide HIV testing for all students. We split up to administer tests at three locations set up throughout the campus giving students multiple opportunities to get tested during the day - The Student Union Building, El Centro de la Raza (Student Affairs), and the LGBTQ Resource Center. The turnout was great being that the temperature was in the 20s, and wind gusts reached up to 44mph.

Two weeks later, the NMDOH returned for a ”Results Day.”  Out of the 33 tests administered on World AIDS Day, 20 results were given. The response to the event could not have been better.

Marching to the beat on MLK: Team Chicago at COIP

“Why is the issue of equality still so far from solution in America, a nation that professes itself to be democratic, inventive, hospitable to new ideas, rich, productive and awesomely powerful? …[The answer, is that], despite its virtues and attributes, America is deeply racist and its democracy is flawed both economically and socially. … [To solve the issue of equality, there must be] a revolution of values… .The whole structure of American life must be changed.” –“A Testament of Hope,” Martin Luther King, Jr., 1968

This is an uncomfortable idea to meditate on after a successful day of service!  The immediate implication is that painting a wall is not a substantial step toward equality. It is even arguable that small acts of service like painting at a community organization are a part of the problem. They do not directly challenge the structure of American life, and can undermine this mission if upheld as the ideal model of service.

These are uncomfortable ideas to ponder, but it is necessary to do so if we are to honor Dr. King’s legacy: Yes, he had a Dream. Yes, we can call him a drum major for justice. We fall by the wayside, however, when we don’t work to make the dream a reality, or only sample the beat of his drum.

King’s imperative is relevant to Team Chicago’s service-work at Community Outreach Intervention Projects (COIP). COIP (est. 1986) is an outreach initiative located on Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood that serves substance users . The services COIP provides include: street outreach; syringe exchange; population-led research projects; counseling & testing for infectious diseases associated with substance use, including HIV; drug abuse & risk reduction counseling; and a program that enhances linkages to care for HIV positive women exiting jail.

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Painting the COIP office was an encouragement to staff working in ways that promote an anti-racist, economically & socially just society. Such encouragement is vital to the justice movement. Our service was not “insufficient”. Even still, we cannot ignore that painting walls is on par with advocating for the rights of PLWHA. So, what room is there for painting walls in King’s Dream? What does a distant act of service like this mean?

If we were to discount our time on the walls, we’d pigeon-hole service into the heroic, the non-quotidian. This is not what Dr. King called for. Instead, he asked us to practice service in every day life. Note his argument from Where Do We Go from Here?:

“Loose and easy language about equality, resonant resolutions about brotherhood fall pleasantly on the ear, but for the Negro there is a credibility gap he cannot overlook… . … When Negroes looked for… the realization of equality, they found that many of their white allies had quietly disappeared.” –”Where Do We Go from Here?”  Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967

Though Dr. King specifically speaks on the years immediately after the Civil Rights Movement, his point is one not bound to this historical moment: It is not enough to do the large, made-for-TV acts of service. As service providers in the HIV field, it is not enough for us to care only about counseling and testing. We must care about the quotidian acts of service that keep the movement motivated, organized, together.

Painting walls at COIP is a show of support; a nod of affirmation. These are necessary and crucial to the continuation of the work. It is the practice needed to move from working for justice, to living for justice.

World AIDS Day 2011 in Tulsa, OK

OttWorld AIDS Day was certainly a long one this year, as there were two events going on in Tulsa. Instead of picking one, Team Tulsa decided to do them both! First we attended Tulsa CARES’ annual World AIDS Day Symposium. Tulsa CARES is an HIV/AIDS organization that works with HIV-positive people living in poverty. Then we went to Tulsa’s World AIDS Day program and premiere of “We Were Here,” a documentary about the early days of AIDS epidemic in San Francisco and how the city responded.

At the symposium, we learned about issues from a wide variety of sources facing people living with HIV/AIDS  in Tulsa . The first presenter, Jim Ott, talked to us about the “rush to judgment” that we fight against in our work with HIV. Then we had a panel of health experts talk about current and promising medical advances, including new drugs and trials. It was very informative, especially hearing from our HIV-positive audience members and learning their health concerns.

harrisonAfter lunch, Dr. Timothy Harrison from the  US Department of Health and Human Services explained how the National HIV/AIDS Strategy was created and how it would affect Oklahoma. Christopher Grano from the Northern Colorado AIDS Project talked to us about taking stigma out of our prevention materials. Instead of using scare tactics that make people living with HIV seem evil, negligent, or dangerous, he wants us to put people first and have sex-positive prevention materials that focus on good behaviors (getting tested, wearing condoms, not discriminating against people with HIV, etc). Our last presenter asked us to be mindful of the ethics in how we share information about clients with other agencies. Even though sharing might be legal through releases or lack of laws, it might not be ethical. The whole program helped us professionally and personally and was a good reminder that we have the information and medications to end AIDS.

At the candlelight vigil, we had a chance to remember our co-workers, clients, and friends with HIV who have passed. Then we went inside the independent movie theater to listen to stories from Tulsa’s early response to the HIV epidemic. We had a lot of former AmeriCorps site supervisors and an AmeriCorps member from the first team talk about their experiences at the beginning of the epidemic and their hopes for the future. There were lots of people dying in Oklahoma at the beginning, and Ric Harrison, a former AmeriCorps member, was a part of a VNA hospice group that help ease the passing of Tulsans with AIDS. Janice Nicklas, our city supervisor, talked about founding TCAP, Tulsa Community AIDS Project, and Tulsa CARES. It was good for the AmeriCorps team to hear these stories of the beginning of the epidemic since none of us had been born during that time. Hearing all the stories and hopes for the future made us feel more committed to the cause. We’ve come a long way since the beginning of the epidemic, but there’s still a lot more to do!

Team Carolina | World AIDS Day

On World AIDS Day, Team Carolina worked together to observe the impact of HIV and honor all those who have lost their lives to the pandemic. We were extremely grateful that so many organizations were honoring this day with community events, dance demonstrations, testing events, and university campus-wide shows. Due to the overwhelming amount of activities, Team Carolina members participated in their own host agency events as well as other community events. These events were located at North Carolina Central University, Shaw University, Veteran Affairs Medical Center of Durham, and the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham, on both November 30th, and December 1st.

At Stephanie’s placement, the Durham Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center was holding a World AIDS Day celebration at the chapel. The celebration kicked off with a Congolese drum and chant led by Dr. Ken Wilson, a physician from the infectious disease department, and his friend Pline Mounezo with the Durham VA Choir accompanying them. After the upbeat start to rev up the audience’s energy, we welcomed three speakers. Stephanie started things off and shared her previous experiences with HIV in Vietnam, how that translated to her work currently in the VA, and how HIV is disproportionately affecting the South. Jessica Fulton, the psychology intern in the infectious disease department, spoke of the mental health and issues HIV positive patients face. Our keynote speaker, Dr. Karen Goldstein, focused on HIV in women veterans and the importance of directing care and resources to this population. The chaplain, Carl Clark, gave closing to the ceremony through a moving vigil. With such a jam-packed program with enthusiastic speakers and performers, the program was very well received by the audience.

In addition, Partners in Caring, in collaboration with Duke University, participated in providing HIV testing to students at Shaw University in Raleigh, NC. While partnering with another advocacy organization, our team was able to test 45 university students. We also provided students with basic safe-sex education counseling, various educational pamphlets and brochures, and contraceptives. This initiative helped raise awareness and reduce the sigma around getting tested. The turnout was more than expected, but in our line of work, this is always an awesome thing.

Project SAFE is North Carolina Central University’s only HIV prevention organization. It  held its annual World AIDS Day event in the Miller Morgan Auditorium on NCCU’s campus. While Project SAFE put in many long hours to making this event happen, the event’s success could not have been achieved without the help of others. Several HIV agencies and organizations from the community came to set up informational tables to be viewed before the event. Furthermore, the event was held in collaboration with many other student organizations around campus. Each organization created some type of work to be shown or performed at the event, including skits, videos, and spoken word. Each performance helped to raise awareness about HIV and safer sex practices among students at NCCU. The event included a keynote speaker who was HIV positive to talk about his story and give the issue a human face. Over 300 students attended this event and free HIV/Syphilis testing was provided to those who were interested.

Josh represented the Alliance of AIDS Services – Carolina (AAS-C) on the planning committee and coordination of two events.  The first event was the Durham County World AIDS Day Celebration, which was a huge success!  Hundreds of community members turned out to check out exhibitors, participate in the Facing AIDS Campaign, get free HIV testing, eat delicious food, and view a program with amazing dancers, singers, artists, and speakers.  Some of the speakers included the founder of a local AIDS service organization, people living with HIV of all races, ethnicity, genders, languages, and ages, HIV case-workers and prevention educators.  Josh’s role was to recruit and coordinate volunteers throughout the program, and particularly a group of dedicated volunteers from the AAS-C AIDS Care Teams to help prepare and serve food to attendees.  The experience was incredibly empowering, with personal stories, a diverse crowd, Spanish-language performers, speakers, and translators, song, dance, and attendees and volunteers who are truly committed to helping those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.  Josh also coordinated a food drive which resulted in loads of food items to be donated to the AAS-C’s food pantry.

Lastly, Josh, as an Associate Faith Ministries Coordinator in his AmeriCorps placement, put countless hours into planning a World AIDS Day Interfaith Worship Service in neighboring Raleigh, NC.  The beauty of this service was the diversity of faiths represented and contributing to the program.  This event showed that HIV/AIDS can be confronted from non-judgmental, multiple faith perspectives, and that people of faith and people of no faith community can come together to “Remember the Lost, Remember the Living, and Remember Those We Must Protect,” the motto of AAS-C.  In spite of being unable to attend the service due to dual obligations on the evening of World AIDS Day, Josh was particularly touched that his parents, both local Baptist ministers, affirmed him and his HIV-positive status, and accepted an invitation to read passages as a part of the Worship Service.  Nothing is more meaningful than one’s own parents moving towards a place of acceptance and affirmation and joining the fight for their son and every other person living with HIV/AIDS. These events were how we as AmeriCorps members move people to get up and ACT to fight HIV/AIDS.

Team NOLA on World AIDS Day 2011

Throughout the week of Dec. 1, 2011, New Orleans joined other cities around the world in observing World AIDS Day– a time of remembrance and awareness.

On Nov. 30, Team NOLA volunteered at a screening of “The Other City”– a documentary about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Washington, D.C. Donations were collected at the door to support a project to make HIV Awareness license plates for Louisiana. Team NOLA helped to promote, set-up, run, and break-down the event.

On Dec. 1, Team NOLA participated in the Facing AIDS project. We walked around parts of New Orleans, asking people if they would like to have their pictures taken with a message about how they are Facing AIDS. We were pleasantly surprised by how many people agreed.

The first part of our mobile photo shoot took place in the French Quarter. Next we went to the AIDS memorial in Washington Square Park where the Louisiana Office of Public Health does a wreath-laying ceremony every year. The last part of our photo shoot took place in the Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans.

We took pictures of ordinary citizens as well as people who have been involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS for many years. Everyone was given red ribbons and a flyer with our facebook page where they could access their photo later.

At night, at the request of the Office of Public Health, the lights on the Superdome were red in honor of World AIDS Day.

For other behind-the-scene shots, check out our facebook album!