Team Chicago Checks In!

November 16, 2011 in AmeriCorps, Team To End AIDS

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.

House of Representatives to Vote on the Constitutional Balanced Budget Amendment

November 15, 2011 in Policy/Advocacy

by Donna Crews, Government Affairs Director

As required in the Budget Control Act of 2011 the House and Senate must vote on a Constitutional Balanced Budget Amendment.  The  legislation states, “After September 30, 2011, and not later than December 31, 2011, the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively, shall vote on passage of a joint resolution, the title of which is as follows: ‘‘Joint resolution proposing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution of the United States.’’’  There are relatively few legislative business days left before December 31st.  The House is scheduled to bring their version of a Constitutional Balanced Budget Amendment to the floor this week, with a vote on Friday, November 18th.

The proposed amendment H.J. Res 2, requires that outlays (what the government spends) do not exceed receipts (what the government brings in) each year, and requires a three-fifths majority to raise the debt ceiling. A similar version was passed by the House in 1995, with 300 votes, but failed in the Senate by only one vote. Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority to pass — 290 votes in the House, and 67 votes in the Senate.

The Senate may or may not bring the same version of the bill to the Senate floor and no time has been announced for a Senate vote.  If the exact legislation passed both chambers it would then be sent to the states for ratification by at least 38 states (3/4 of states) in a seven year period.  It would not require a signature from the President.  It is not expected that this legislation will get the necessary 2/3 majority votes to pass in either chamber, but we must advocate and ensure it does not pass.

A balanced budget amendment to the Constitution is not the solution to the current deficit situation we find the country in at this time.  Many economists believe a balanced budget amendment would be a terrible idea.  Macroeconomic Advisor (a nonpartisan mainstream firm) has said that, “any version of a balanced budget amendment would do significant harm to the American economy”, according to an article entitled Economic Forecasting Firm Harshily Criticizes Proposed Constitutional Balanced Budget Amendment posted here at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

While Congress and the Administration strive to bring the budget as close to balanced as possible, there are many extenuating circumstances that often come to bear, such as wars, natural disasters, high unemployment, and need for government programs to cover safety net issues for the poor and disenfranchised.  Please read the letter signed by AIDS United and over 100 National Organizations Opposing the Balanced Budget Amendment.  The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has additional background information on the balanced budget amendment that the House is considering and the amount of program cuts that may be implemented if the amendment was enacted.  Click here for further details and resources.

AIDS United is opposed to this legislation.  We urge you to contact your House Member of Congress and ask for a “No” vote on the Balanced Budget Amendment on Friday.

Making a Difference in DC

in AmeriCorps

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!

Team Carolina | Make A Difference Day

November 11, 2011 in AmeriCorps

On Make A Difference Day, Team Carolina had the opportunity to collaborate with Partners in Caring (PIC), a grant-funded component of the Duke University Medical Center (DUMC) Pastoral Services Department and the DUMC Division of Infectious Diseases. Along with its main focus to provide spiritual assistance to individuals living with HIV/AIDS, PIC also is greatly involved in prevention education and testing in outreach and community settings. As our AmeriCorps team, and many other teams have surely come to know, the infectious disease known as HIV is not one that only affects the biological aspect of an individual’s life. It has breached to other facets such as social, political, and mental. It is wonderful that programs like PIC exist to help individuals cope with their condition, and help these individuals establish reassuring relationships with local churches and support groups.

The event that took place was a local health fair in Durham, NC at the Holton Resource and Training Center. Various groups came together to raise awareness about many medically-related conditions, including diabetes, cancer, and HIV. There were two simple but effective components to our service project: education and testing. Firstly, our team provided hourly educational sessions in which individuals learned the mechanics of the disease, ways of transmission, means of prevention,  and activities to generate awareness. This was extremely important, because many of these individuals would not have received HIV education otherwise. Secondly, HIV rapid testing was available free of charge. It was noticeable that although many were eager to learn about disease, many were afraid of the testing portion of the workshop. The large stigma associated with getting tested was evident, and the individuals who were tested were supported greatly during the process.

All in all, this service day was a great experience. It gave us the opportunity to put all the things we have learned through countless hours of training into real-life practice. The experience we had teaching, testing, and counseling first-hand cannot be substituted any other way, and will help shape our team into better ambassadors of the AIDS United message. We hoped we made a difference in all those we reached out to.

AIDS United Partner Attends NHAS Implementation Dialogue in Baton Rouge

November 4, 2011 in National HIV/AIDS Strategy

by Brandi Bowen, Program Director, New Orleans Regional AIDS Planning Council

The Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) hosted a National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) implementation dialogue in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at the Manship Theatre on October 25, 2011. The intimate venue allowed the many participants to feel the impetus of the meeting’s topic; collaboration. Mr. Jeff Crowley, Director of ONAP set the tone and emphasized the administration’s initiatives to address the domestic HIV epidemic. A warm welcome was provided by Gwen Hamilton on behalf of Mayor Kip Holden; support of the Mayor’s Office was a fine case in point towards the spirit of collaboration. Ronald Valdiserri offered an Update of Federal Implementation Efforts, which ran the gamut from cross-governmental efforts to integrate biomedical advances in prevention, treatment and care to referencing faith-based initiatives and the 12 Cities Project.

Kandy Ferree, a strategic consultant and former CEO of National AIDS Fund, addressed on public private partnerships struck strong chords with the almost 100 individuals present. In addition to connecting the dots on key pieces of partnership planning, the presentation offered many take home points in tune with these challenging times: “Examine core competencies…” “…change management takes leadership” and a “willingness to change the system.” Examples of successful partnerships in action, including AIDS United’s Access to Care initiative supported by Social Innovation Fund, were directly tied to supporting the NHAS goals and made sure to mention performance metrics. The collaborative theme was carried into the panel discussion, moderated by Terry McGovern of the Ford Foundation. The diversity of panelists, representative of governmental, community- based, and private sectors, furthered the coordinative focus. The topics panelists touched on, ranging from ADAP need to Medicaid expansion, were echoed by the community’s comments. No one seemed to mind that well organized members of the Louisiana AIDS Advocacy Network (LAAN) monopolized the mic. While referencing data evidenced in the Louisiana SHARP report, public comments covered typical topics, including expanding access to care via 1115 Waivers to reducing disparities and unmet need, with an especial request to expand the 12 Cities Project.

Personally, as a proponent of housing stability and peer programs to improve health outcomes, I would have preferred more attention to these areas, but the latter was addressed by Ferree’s mention of Health Navigators and suggestion to train and credential peers, while the former was not ignored, as Crowley emphasized the efforts made towards reducing silos, including coordination with Housing and Urban Development and increasing the supply of affordable housing. Overall, the community clearly embraced Crowley’s sentiment that there continues to be a ‘heightened sense of urgency’ to collectively work towards the vision of NHAS. Advocates present, representatives of the Baton Rouge and New Orleans’ areas primarily, but also inclusive of rural and regional peer participants, seem poised to further public private partnerships and appreciated ONAP’s presence and guidance in hosting this spirited forum.

Make A Difference Day In Detroit

October 27, 2011 in AmeriCorps

For Make A Difference Day 2011 Team Detroit joined millions of people nationwide in an effort to give back to our communities. In southeast Michigan, a collaboration of United Way for Southeastern Michigan, University of Michigan-Dearborn, Madonna University, Oakland Community College, Marygrove College and Wayne State University allowed Detroit area residents, students and AmeriCorps groups to come together on this important day. At the event, agencies from across the region provided activities that directly benefited our community. Arts and Scraps Detroit saw volunteers prep countless art kits that Detroit area school children will now be able to use. College Positive witnessed the power of volunteerism by training residents to tutor K-12 youth as they prepare for college; Beyond Basics gave residents a chance to work on projects like book binding and making bookmarks as well as provided training for those who looked to help elementary school children develop fundamental education skills.

Team Detroit took part in assisting with the beautification at the Southwest Solutions Early Learning Community. This awesome organization provides parents, caregivers and their children the opportunity to prepare to enter school ready to learn. Too often Detroit area schools see children enter into the education system not truly ready.  Southwest Solutions Early Learning Community steps in and looks to benefit from the fact that 90% of brain development occurs before a child reaches the age of three. Southwest Solutions Early Learning Community’s programs provide trainings in childhood development,  health and safety classes, mentoring services,  and networking events.  The organization also offers clean playgrounds for families to play, learn and grow. In addition to all of this, assistance programs are set in place to help those parents and caregivers who may have issues with reading, writing and math themselves. While children are sent to school to learn, education first starts in the home, parents and caregivers that need help can now find it free of charge.

Beautification efforts taking place at one of the five Southwest Solutions Early Learning Community sites in the area focused on the environment that surrounds those using the facility. Members from the team helped cleaned up the surrounding yard and playground area, revamped the kitchen area with a thorough cleaning and refinishing of cabinets/cupboards and assisted with the general cleaning of the learning areas inside. A healthy learning environment providing a stable and secure learning experience is what our youth truly need and community-based programs such as the one found at Southwest Solutions Early Learning Community serve as a community hub for moving forward. Keeping the grounds clean, allowing the volunteers and employees to focus on their work and providing a safe place for Detroit youth and families was an awesome feeling. The Detroit area may be notorious for its state of education at the moment but efforts such as this show that progress is being made, people are moving forward and citizens look to provide for the children that will one day inherit the city left to them.

Although Team Detroit looks to make a difference every day, this Make A Difference Day was a remarkable experience that we are all happy to have been a part of.