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Team Detroit Long-Term Project at Teen HYPE

When Team Detroit began preparing for our long-term project, we established a primary goal of creating a positive change in the city of Detroit that would last beyond our term of service. It was for this reason that we decided to commit our service to an established organization that would continue to serve the community for years to come. Our hope was that we would provide resources for this organization that they would otherwise not have, and that we would develop a framework for these resources to remain in place after our term of service was complete. Specifically, we served at Teen HYPE, a youth empowerment agency that is involved in HIV testing and care, as well as other youth services. They have an after school program where kids can study and receive help with homework. They also hold many youth-run events and fundraisers, including an annual theater play.

Team Photo 1

While serving at Teen HYPE, we collaborated with staff at the agency to design a project that would help them in an area of need. We planned to establish a framework for volunteer administration and to extend the volunteer pool that Teen HYPE currently had on call for events. In order to accomplish these goals, we wrote volunteer policies, procedures, and job descriptions for specific volunteer tasks that were needed. While Teen HYPE had a website with a volunteer form, many of the completed forms were being overlooked and so we established a staff member at the organization to contact these potential volunteers. We made contact with several organizations and companies in Detroit and established partnerships with Teen HYPE. Several of these organizations agreed to be placed in Tees volunteer pool. We also formed volunteer partnerships with multiple school fraternities at Wayne State University, which we hope will continue with each incoming class. In addition to establishing a volunteer department at Teen HYPE, we also helped out at events and volunteered consistently in their after school program in order to provide short-term help as the volunteer pool was in the process of forming. We volunteered as tutors and mentors for the kids in order to assist the staff.

Spirit of Detroit

The fruits of our commitment became evident as the year progressed and we began to see the new volunteer administration in action. For example, Teen HYPE hosted a few lunch presentations for parents about talking to their children about teen issues and was in need of many volunteers beyond what Team Detroit itself could provide. Therefore, we were able to successfully call on the new volunteer pool that we recruited and were able to gather a large group from Chrysler to help out at the events. Moments like these confirmed that we made a difference for Teen HYPE and helped extend their reach to help the Detroit youth communities. While volunteering in the after school programs we were able to see the progress of many of the students as the year progressed. Because we were seeing the same students each week, we were able to track their progress and reinforce concepts that we knew they were having trouble with. As we finish our term of service in AmeriCorps, we know that this volunteer pool that we created at Teen HYPE will be available for them to call on for many years.

Watching AIDSWatch Change Lives

bernadette-webBy Bernadette Carriere
Pedro Zamora Public Policy Fellow, AIDS United

I didn’t know what to expect from AIDSWatch as a participant, but as an employee I realized early in my fellowship that it involved a lot of work. As a Pedro Zamora fellow working in the office of AIDS United, I saw firsthand the preparation that went into organizing this event. I answered some of the calls from scholarship participants and I got to witness the excitement in the office as the dates of AIDSWatch slowly approached. From the time I started my fellowship in late January, staff was already working diligently to plan fine details. So when the time finally arrived, I was hopeful that this event would be as successful as anticipated.

On Monday when I arrived at the training site, I was glad to see all of the participants excited and energized as they entered the conference space. They were eager to see old friends and meet new ones as I witnessed many hugs and handshakes being passed around the room. When the speakers began, they were equally enthused as they engaged participants on the epidemic, immediate needs and concerns, and our progress moving forward. As I sat in the room, I couldn’t help but get emotional as I thought about my aunt who passed away from complications related to AIDS.

It was not long ago that I had to witness one of the women who meant so much to me, fight for her life. She wanted to live… I got emotional because I was in a room surrounded by people I didn’t know, but I felt a sense of camaraderie. I knew my aunt would have loved to see so many people rally in one space to mobilize around an issue that affected her not only physically, but mentally. I envisioned her going around the room walking with her head held high because she would see that she was not in this fight alone. She and I, as a family, could have been in that room championing for this cause while representing so many people from our community. The selfish part of me shed a tear because I missed her, but I smiled as I realized that it is through her that I am able to live my life working on an issue that impacts the lives of so many.

Guest Blog: Food is Medicine

Alissa WassungBy Alissa Wassung
Director of Policy & Planning
God’s Love We Deliver, New York City

Judging by research released this month in the American Journal of Medicine and an article in The Atlantic, people are catching on to the fact that access to good food can be a form of preventive medicine.

Nearly one in three U.S. adults with a chronic disease has problems paying for food, medicine, or both. Researchers at Harvard and the University of California at San Francisco studied data from the 2011 U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s National Health Interview Survey, and of the 10,000 adults who reported that they had a chronic disease such as diabetes, asthma, arthritis, high blood pressure, stroke, a mental health problem, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, nearly one in five said they had problems affording food during the past 30 days, qualifying as “food insecure.” Nearly one in four said they had skipped medication dosages because of cost. More than one in ten said they had problems paying for both food and medication. Among those whose illnesses were most diet-related, like diabetes and heart disease, individuals were particularly concerned with finding the right food needed to stay healthy.

Our foundation as New York City’s leading provider of medically-tailored home delivered meals for men, women and children living with serious illnesses was built 29 years ago during the first years of the AIDS pandemic, delivering meals to clients to combat the wasting effects of the diagnosis. As the  trajectory of the disease has changed, so has the way in which we deliver nutrition. At God’s Love, we know firsthand what more and more research proves every day: food is medicine. When people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) are food secure, they are more likely to take their medications, and keep doctors’
appointments. They are more likely to have higher CD4 counts and undetectable viral loads, and are more likely to engage and remain in care.

What is clear from all this is that PLWHA should not have to choose between food and medication if we are to attain our goal of an AIDS Free Generation.
The Ryan White Program offers the most comprehensive package of food and nutrition support in the country, but it is still not enough. A recent longitudinal study of PLWHA in New York City demonstrated that 42% of PLWHA who were receiving food assistance were still food insecure.

The article in The Atlantic focuses on how Medicaid could help patients afford their medications and also suggests screening tools to help doctors connect patients to existing food programs, like SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps). But other options go unmentioned. Food and nutrition services (FNS), especially medically tailored home-delivered meals for the most at-risk individuals, could be incorporated into medical care through coverage in private and public insurance, resulting in massive cost savings for providers, and better health outcomes for patients.

Client Hassan M  and volunteer (17)To put the cost savings in perspective, MANNA, our sister FNS agency in Philadelphia that delivers medically tailored home-delivered meals, recently mounted a rigorous pilot study matching MANNA clients to a control group within a local managed care organization to compare healthcare costs on and off the MANNA FNS program. The results were stunning. Average health care costs for MANNA clients fell 62% for three months after beginning services (for a total of almost $30,000). For PLWHA, the cost savings were even more dramatic, falling over 80% in the first three months.

Compared to medical care, food is cheap. You can feed a person a home-delivered diet tailored for their unique medical circumstances for $20 a day. Hospitalization can cost $4,000 a day. If food services prevent one day of hospitalization for a person with chronic illness, the medical cost savings would feed them for more than half a year. The impact of providing patients with the right food for their medical situations is undeniable, and yet, there remains great resistance to the concept of “food is medicine” in healthcare.

There are some positive signs. Progressive states, like New York and Maryland, have already incorporated FNS into the Medicaid benefits package for their most at-risk populations through federal waivers. Although FNS programs, like God’s Love, are small relative to the need and are centered largely in urban areas, we are demonstrating successful outcomes. Our hope is that modeling cost-savings and positive health outcomes will encourage other states to follow suit. Until they do, some of the most vulnerable among us will be forced to choose between two forms of medicine.

To learn more about God’s Love We Deliver, visit www.glwd.org.

National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day: The Need for Action

Rachel headshotBy Rachel Yull
Public Policy Intern, AIDS United

This Thursday, April 10, was National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, commemorating the work that young people are doing to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  This day gives young people the opportunity to show support as well as educate people about HIV.  I have noticed a lack of young people advocating for social issues, including HIV, and I encourage all youth to get involved in the fight to end HIV in our generation.  There are many things that you can do to get involved, whether getting tested at a local testing center, organizing a sexual health and HIV education program at your school, or distributing free condoms to increase access and awareness of safe practices.

Although HIV has not directly affected my close friends or family, I became an advocate after learning of the health disparities that exist within the Black community.  As a young Black woman I find this day of paramount importance for people in my demographic: the incidence of HIV among Black youth has been on the rise and Black youth make up 57% of all HIV infections among young people age 18-24.

Last year, during my sophomore year of college at Cornell University, I took a class entitled “The Sociology of Health of Ethnic Minorities.” This course gave me the ability to understand and the language to verbalize the health disparities that I have seen in my community.  With this knowledge I decided that I wanted to become an HIV advocate inspiring me to reach out to the AIDS United policy team.  When I received an internship to work with the policy team for a semester, I had no idea what to expect. I had never done any advocacy work before and the only things I knew about HIV were what I learned in class, but my internship at AIDS United has been one of the best experiences I have ever had.

Through my internship I have learned that although the rates of HIV are decreasing there is still much work to be done.  I learned about the HIV treatment cascade, which includes all of the steps of treatment from being diagnosed through having an undetectable viral load.  Among youth the most significant problem along the treatment cascade is a lack of awareness of their status, or their lack of education about the importance of getting tested.  According to the CDC, almost 60% of HIV positive youth do not know their status.  Therefore, National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day reminds us to pay particular attention to campaigns and programs to educate youth on the importance of getting tested and knowing their status.  From my experience at AIDS United, I have also realized the importance of young people getting involved in politics and having our voices heard by our Representatives and Senators in Congress. This is the one of the effective ways that our generation can effect policy change that can help in leading to an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  On this National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, let’s not only reflect on the work that needs to be done, but resolve to take action and do the work, regardless of our age or status.

National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day: Music, Media, and Outreach

bernadette-web

By Bernadette Carriere
Pedro Zamora Public Policy Fellow, AIDS United

I grew up in the early 90’s, an era when HIV was considered a death sentence, an idea that was perpetuated by much of the popular culture of the time.  Music channels like MTV were among the first to take the lead to promote awareness about many issues facing young people, including HIV, and the plight of urban youth. These two issues came to an intersection on the music television station with the untimely death of rapper Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, who died in 1995, soon after being diagnosed with AIDS.

I remember watching MTV’s news cover the rapper’s death.  N.W.A.’s group members, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and MC Ren, were talking about their fallen comrade in disbelief as he would no longer be with them after contracting the fatal illness.  The media frenzy surrounding his death was headline news because HIV could now look like anyone.  After all, HIV was a virus associated with white gay males. A year prior, MTV aired The Real World: San Francisco which featured a cast member who was infected with the virus that causes AIDS.  The cast member for whom my fellowship was named, Pedro Zamora, brought international attention to HIV/AIDS and issues surrounding the LGBT community.

Prior to airing Real World: San Francisco, MTV helped to make an R&B girl group popular.  TLC gained rapid popularity through their racy song lyrics and their fashion sense.  They wore oversized clothing with condoms pinned to them.  They used their image to bring awareness to social issues that included the promotion of safe sex and they did so by removing the shame associated with condoms.  Everyone who watched music videos was able to see and hear their message.  However, after the death of Eazy-E, the message was now resonating with young adults across America.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, when I had the opportunity to visit Metro TeenAIDS in DC’s Southeast neighborhood. I met with executive Director Adam Tenner, who listened to me express many concerns I had over the issues urban youth face today.  I was impressed by his level of commitment to kids that are sometimes dismissed as hopeless.  I was also equally impressed by the use of media and music Metro TeenAIDS used to keep the kids engaged in the program, as music videos on television have given way to web channels as a major component of youth engagement.

Then I had the opportunity to meet these wonderful kids who were well-mannered and welcoming.  They embraced me into their world and included me into their discussions.  I was initially shocked at the level of openness in which these kids engaged one another.   As an individual would openly talk about personal adversity another would politely listen and wait to share whatever it was that they were dealing with at the moment.  Most of the issues they discussed centered on wanting to be treated with respect and being trusted that they could make decisions and be responsible if given the proper tools.

It was poetry Friday.  Music was playing in the background and I wanted to engage the kids before the performances started.  I was interested in why was it important for them to be a part of Metro TeenAIDS considering the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.  The response from the kids I talked to was the same.  They felt empowered to be able to teach their peers about sexual health and HIV prevention and they were using several media outlets to engage one another.

I left that day truly inspired.  The kids I spoke to were able to articulate their feelings about HIV and explain how they based their decisions to take action. Today, music television is no longer the primary source for reaching youth, and HIV is no longer seen as a death sentence.  However, music is still an important component in connecting with young people.  Metro TeenAIDS has utilized this method and has successfully created a community space for kids to unite.  They have also provided kids with the necessary tools they need to become effective advocates in the prevention of HIV/AIDS.