Browsing Category: AmeriCorps

Team Tulsa and National Make a Difference Day

Decade-of-Divas2This year, National Make a Difference Day was the same day as the biggest fundraiser of the year for H.O.P.E., an HIV testing clinic that the Tulsa AIDS Team has been working with for 18 years! So of course we jumped at the chance to help out at “Decade of Divas,” an evening including auction items, great live music, and wine.

H.O.P.E. stands for Health Outreach Prevention Education and is one of the largest HIV prevention organizations in Oklahoma. It provides free HIV testing Monday-Thursday during the day and also has a walk-in clinic on Monday and Thursday evenings. H.O.P.E. is Brant’s host site this year, was Carolyn’s host site last year, and has been hosting AIDS United/AmeriCorps members since 1994.

Decade-of-Divas1Paige and Karen got to help out at the wine pull, Carolyn staffed the silent auction, and Naomi and Brant got to work the registration table.

Overall the whole team had a great time getting dressed up, hanging out together, enjoying a great music and a good cause. We also imagined what it would feel like to have the kind of money that people were bidding on dinners, cruises, vacations, jewelry, art and other fine auction items.

Team DC’s World AIDS Day 2011

Every year on December 1st people around the world commemorate those working tirelessly and selflessly in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  It is also a day to remember those who have lost their lives to the virus. The purpose of World AIDS Days is to educate one another on the dangers of stigma and discrimination, remind each other about the importance of getting tested, support those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, and reflect on those who are no longer with us. For some people it is a challenging day — why should December 1st be any different from December 2nd or November 30th? People often pose the question, “why isn’t World AIDS Day everyday?” In fact, for many people, like the AIDS United/Washington AIDS Partnership AmeriCorps team, World AIDS Day IS does take place every day.

The team went above and beyond this year, making December 1, 2011 a really significant and special day. The 12 members spent the first part of Thursday at Children’s National Medical Center. As one of the staff members at the hospital said, “This day would not have been possible without the AmeriCorps members here.” The team was stationed throughout the hospital helping with a variety of tasks. Some helped ensure that the HIV testing area stayed organized and that staff members knew where to get tested. Others attended a panel discussion with staff members of the Children’s National Medical Center who have been working in the field of HIV/AIDS for over a decade. Other AmeriCorps members educated the hospital community on safer sex and resources for youth in the city, and also facilitated educational games. Others passed out red ribbons, so that everyone in the hospital could spread awareness about HIV/AIDS.

Here are just a few of the special moments that took place throughout the day:

The day started out with a panel discussion for the entire hospital highlighting the successes made in HIV services as well as how the department can improve in the future. The passion and knowledge in the room was astounding. I was honored to be in the auditorium with so many dedicated and talented members of the community. The panel was followed by a vigil led by one of the hospital’s chaplains. She provided us with a space and ceremony to remember those we have lost in this fight. As the emotion flowed through the room the energy created recharged my battery to continue the work we are doing each day to ensure that everyone gets the education, care, and support they deserve.

The day continued with fun, informational, and educational activities in the hospital’s mini atrium. AmeriCorps members informed the hospital’s community about HIV/AIDS resources, facilitated educational games, and helped uplift medical providers who often never take a moment to celebrate life. It was an amazing feeling to walk into a room filled with positive vitality and optimistic energy for the future, as well as an awesome DJ and red ribbon cookies. I couldn’t help but dance and smile every time I walked through.

One of the main points mentioned in the panel discussion earlier that day was leading by example. I am so impressed by how many members of the hospital community came up to me to let me know that they got tested! Watching medical providers and hospital staff members step up as role models made me realize that there is real hope for the future of this disease. Without the AmeriCorps team directing people and raising awareness about the importance of getting an HIV test, the numbers of people seeking testing would not have been that high.

When I left the hospital at about 3:30 the main atrium was FILLED with people doing artwork, making bracelets, dancing, and smiling. It is a rare phenomenon to see that many people taking time out of their busy schedules to celebrate the wonderful, and life saving work they do.

Following the event at the hospital, the AmeriCorps team ventured over to the Latin American Youth Center where many of our organizations collaborated to create World AIDS Day events for youth in the city. The youth events actually began on the Tuesday prior to World AIDS Day at a popular local poetry venue. This gave youth the opportunity and space to express how HIV/AIDS has impacted their lives and the lives of people they love. The powerful messages shared carried over to the Latin American Youth Center on Thursday afternoon.

The events at LAYC included watching the film, The Other City, a documentary about HIV/AIDS Washington D.C. The movie was followed by a question and answer period with Jose Ramirez, one of the community members featured in the film. During the movie AmeriCorps members helped serve food, provide HIV, STI, and pregnancy tests, and educate youth about HIV in DC as well as provide useful, youth-friendly resources. The building was packed with young people until about 7:00 when the event moved to the Warehouse Theater downtown for a performance of “The Battle,”  a play directed and produced by a local DC youth about HIV and how it affects relationships. It was a perfect end to long and eventful day.

Reflections on Remembrance

Lance Hicksby Lance Hicks

On Friday, November 18, I joined members of AmeriCorps AIDS United Team Detroit in service at the Metro Detroit Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil. The ceremony was held at Central United Methodist church, in the heart of the city. The annual event was conceived as a means of honoring the many transgender people who have been murdered due to transphobia—fear or hatred of trans people and those perceived to be trans.

In so many ways, the event was familiar for me—as a transgender person who’s been locally active since my teens, I’ve been attending TDOR memorials for years. On the night of the vigil, I experienced a lot of things I expected—familiar faces shone from all corners of the cavernous church sanctuary where Martin Luther King, Jr. himself once spoke. Throughout the night, I embraced countless friends and mentors—people who had once supported and guided me not only though the many tumults of adolescence, but also through the process of my own transition to gender authenticity. I paid my respects, as one by one, the names of transgender people were read, music performed, and speeches given.

Despite its familiar feel, this year’s Day of Remembrance wasn’t the same as always. Only weeks before the vigil took place, a local transgender young woman, Shelley Hilliard, was declared missing. Her dismembered and mutilated body was discovered shortly after, along the side of a major freeway. Since Shelley was young, transgender, African American, and involved in the commercial sex industry, her death was bitterly unremarkable. Transgender people—especially women, people of color, and sex workers—encounter extreme risk in daily life. Take a minute to scroll through the names on the Remembering Our Dead website (http://www.gender.org/remember/ ), where transgender people who have been murdered due to hate are honored and acknowledged, and you’ll notice the patterns. What made Shelley’s death significant in our community, at this time, was the fact that so many of us knew and loved her. For us, Shelley wasn’t a statistic—she was our friend, and our neighbor.

In the few short days following revelations regarding what happened to Shelley, and the TDOR event, committee members reached out to Shelley’s mother, Lyniece Nelson. I’ll admit, when I first heard of plans to honor Shelley in the Day of Remembrance ceremony, I was concerned. I knew that Shelley’s loss was a devastation to the community, and that her memory deserved our respect; but I was worried that the time was too soon, and feelings too raw.

All my concerns subsided, at the Vigil. With incredible strength, Mz. Nelson rose to the head of our gathering,  just days after identifying the body of her daughter, and she spoke with love and determination about the injustice our whole community had suffered—and more importantly—about the struggle we each inherit, to create a safer world for everyone. At the end of her speech, Mz. Nelson shared in embrace with Sylvia Gurrera—the mother of slain transgender teen Gwen Arujo. Mz. Gurrera had arranged to keynote the event well in advance, and the timely meeting of the two mothers was more than just poignant: it was rousing. The strength of these mothers, in the face of such great loss, was inspiring—a memory I won’t forget any time soon.

Memorable as these moments were, what truly caught me off guard was the feeling of solidarity, respect, and true dedication I could feel, as I stood alongside members of my team. In my first few years as a trans activist, I’ve become accustomed to the shared commitment of other transgender people to create a more socially just world for people of all genders. But attending the Day of Remembrance vigil as part of Team Detroit was the first time in my memory that I felt truly allied with people outside the trans community, in continuing that struggle.

For me, this feeling confirmed what I’ve heard so many times before—by AIDS United representatives at pre-service, our city supervisor and team coordinator during the hiring process, and alumni who excitedly urged me to apply for the program, when I first mentioned my interest. A true dedication, passion, and commitment to the work we do is what defines an AmeriCorps member. For people involved in this journey of learning and of service, the commitment we make to stand beside community members across the country, in struggle for a better world, is genuine, and is something we carry throughout our lives. Hearing these words from others inspired me; but feeling their truth for myself was nothing short of humbling.

With the Day of Remembrance behind us, now, I’m excited for times ahead. I know that the challenge of working for HIV/AIDS prevention in Detroit won’t be easy. I’m not daunted, though. I’m energized and emboldened by the dedication of my teammates, and determined to make this year count.

Team New Mexico – Make a Difference Day

madd1It was a lovely morning on Make a Difference Day 2011 for Team New Mexico. We collaborated with the Air Force Research Laboratory team to offer some assistance in giving a facelift to the St. Martin’s Hospitality Center, a homeless shelter and care center located in downtown Albuquerque. St. Martin’s provides many needed services for the homeless and near-homeless, including hot meals, shower facilities, clothing exchange, mental and behavioral health case management, job placement, rural and community outreach, substance abuse treatment, program housing, self-sufficiency, storage of cherished belongings, and stranded homeless travelers’ aid.

madd3-blogFor Make a Difference Day 2011, members of Team New Mexico used their interior design skills to help clean and paint the group conference/meeting room. Since art is a major part of New Mexican culture, there were many paintings made by local children and adult artists. Some of the paintings even had special sentimental value to St. Martins Hospitality Center and its clients. After giving the group room a fresh coat of paint, we framed the paintings and arranged them on the wall to create an atmosphere that was comfortable and welcoming. We were also provided printed copies of inspirational stories that previous clients had written describing their history and their experience with St. Martins.  The room turned into a great space.

Our team had such a great day at St. Martin’s Hospitality Center. We even had some coffee, tea, and donuts for breakfast as well as great pizza for lunch. Overall we felt great about being able to help a center that does so much for the community. “It feels good to know that something as small as giving a room a fresh coat of paint and hanging pictures can make a big difference in someone’s life. A little really can go a long way,” said Team Coordinator, Joanna.

madd5You can follow us throughout the year on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/AIDS-United-Americorps-Team-New-Mexico/160542047294185#!/pages/AIDS-United-AmeriCorps-Team-New-Mexico/160542047294185

Team Chicago Checks In!

By Wandalyn Savala

It’s been a busy quarter for Team Chicago. After AIDS United training in Ann Arbor, we quickly got to work in the Chi. Our team of nine serves with eight agencies in the city: Broadway Youth Center, Test Positive Aware Network, Chicago House, Southside Help Center, Howard Brown, Heartland Alliance, The Night Ministry, and Project Vida. Our work connects us with youth, homeless individuals, persons who identify as LGBTQI, people struggling to make ends meet, and people new to the world of service providers and case managers. Every day we see how HIV is truly a city-wide issue.

Our primary task is to provide HIV testing to those who visit our agencies, but often we become a part of our clients’ emotional and social support networks. With the life changes that can come with being “at-risk” for contracting HIV or living with HIV, how could we not? It was no surprise, then, when one of our teammates began crocheting hats for homeless individuals they work with in anticipation of the winter months.

Of course, emotional and social support goes beyond meeting the needs of the people we serve. Support also means celebrating successes. In September and October, we did just that by volunteering at the Chicago Half Marathon and the AIDS Walk. Both events raised money for HIV service organizations so that they – and we – can continue the work we do in all parts of the city. As we cheered on the Team2End AIDS, we marveled at how one good, “GOOOOO TEAM!” helped runners make it through the finish line.

It’s November now. We’re in the thick of our service year, but far from the end. (A fact that we’re constantly reminded of as the temperatures drop, and our first Chicago winter looms near.) Whenever we can, we’re at trainings, conferences, and meetings to enhance our knowledge about the epidemic. We know that HIV, what we know about it, and how we can fight it is constantly evolving. Accordingly, we prep ourselves as much as possible. As 2011 winds down, look forward to more blog postings about what we’ve been up to since August, and what we look forward to doing from now until June.

Wandalyn Savala is a member of AIDS United Team Chicago. Follow Team Chicago on Twitter @AIDS_U_CHITOWN and ‘like’ us on Facebook.

Making a Difference in DC

Finding affordable housing in Washington, DC can be an uphill battle. As gentrification drives housing prices up in different neighborhoods around the District, some residents e are pushed out to Maryland or Virginia, and/or find themselves with insecure housing situations. The Transitional Housing Coalition (THC) is one organization that works to maintain affordable housing options for families and individuals, and the organization also helps prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.

For Make a Difference Day, Team DC met up with the wonderful people at one of the transitional housing sites of THC. Families stay at sites like this one before making the move to a more permanent living situation, such as one of the long-term affordable rental housing sites of THC. The organization also has programs for permanent supportive housing, and for rapid rehousing and homeless prevention for displaced families or families that are in danger of losing their homes.

After learning a little bit about the organization and about housing issues in DC, we donned gloves and masks and got to work sanding and taping a few of the walls of the apartment complex. The walls had recently been re-done, and we were prepping them for painting, which we were able to do after lunch. With the power of twelve team members, and the help and guidance of the maintenance staff, we managed to finish painting all of the walls that we prepped. The staff was very happy to have the extra help, and we felt proud to have contributed to the beautification of the building.

One of the highlights of the day was when we met up with a three-year-old resident who wandered into the room that we were in and started hopping around and “ribbiting” like a frog. He hung out with us for a little bit before his mom came for him, and he even came back to say goodbye to us later.

THC not only provides affordable housing for individuals and families, it also has a number of enrichment programs for the people that it serves, and most of these programs are staffed by volunteers. If you live in the DC area and want to help out with a ‘Time for Tots’ program, for example, check out the Transitional Housing Corporation and you might be able to meet our frog friend!