Filled Bellies, Happy Bellies.

April 4, 2014 in AmeriCorps

To end the month with a bang, Team Indy organized and implemented our very own Food Drive benefiting the Damien Center.  The Damien Center is a local AIDS Service Organization focusing on empowering clients across Central Indiana affected by HIV to move forward in life with dignity. This community organization provides care coordination, supportive and medical services.  A pivotal department within the Damien Center is the Coby Palmer Food Pantry.  When diet is critical in maintaining a strong and healthy immune system, the Damien Center serves as a community leader in both providing educational instruction and providing supplemental nutrition.

Healthy Competition: Team Indy’s Penny War

in AmeriCorps

Healthy Competition — The Battle Between the ASOs

For Team Indy’s long term project, we are creating a PSA for National HIV Testing Day in June. To help cover the costs of the PSA, Team Indy came up with several creative fundraisers. The month of March, was dedicated to a Penny War between the ASOs in Indianapolis.  Penny wars are an easy way to receive donations, while spurring healthy competition.

point value

The rules behind our Penny War were quite simple. Each ASO was given 2 jars: a “Penny Jar” and a “Sabotage Jar.” ASO’s were encouraged to put pennies and bills into their penny jar and put quarters, nickels, and dimes in the sabotage jar. Pennies and bills counted towards an ASOs score, but silver counts against one’s score.  When silver was placed in the sabotage jar, it could be used to attack another ASO, causing them to lose points. We had 8 ASOs participate, even one ASO that does not have an AmeriCorps members at it.

DSCN0579 The competition was fierce. Our AmeriCorps members at the Damien Center presented the penny war at a staff meeting. By the end of the meeting there was over $130 in the penny jar!!  And that was just day one. By the end of the first week, the team had raised $394.33!!

As the weeks progressed, allegiances formed. Several ASO’s teamed up to sabotage the   Damien Center. These ASOs collectively brought in over $220 (-22,000 points) in silver to sabotage the Damien Center. The Damien Center executive director did not take this too kindly. Once learning that the Damien Center had fallen into third place, he pledged to his staff that if they raised $100, he would match their collective $100 donation. This did the trick. The Damien Center staff easily met that match and brought in more than $300 that week.

The AmeriCorps members were responsible for motivating their ASO’s to keep fighting and keep donating. Members updated their agencies with weekly emails. Some even got creative with song lyrics. Here is an email that went out to all of the Damien Center staff after rebounding back into first place during week 3.

Sing to Queen’s — “We are the Champions”

I’ve paid my pennies
Time after time
I’ve done my counting
But committed no crime
And bad sabotages
I’ve made a few
I’ve had my share of penny grime
left on my fingers
But I’ve come through

And we mean to go on and on and on and on

We are the champions (for this week) – my friends
And we’ll keep on donating
Till the end
We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions of the ASOs.

 After 4 intense weeks of competition, the Damien Center came in first place with 37,783 points, closely followed by LifeCare, who brought in more than $200 in the last week. In total the penny war brought in close to $1800!!!!  Team Indy was shocked with the success of the penny war. Their initial goal was to raise just $200, which was easily met in the first week.

The penny war brought new energy to the team. They bonded while counting thousands of pennies and relished in their success. The competition also enabled the AmeriCorps members to interact with people they normally don’t within their agencies and with other agencies.  The Penny War showed that a little healthy competition can spur teamwork, renewed energy, and a lot of pennies.

Penny wars for the win!!!

Supreme Court Hears Arguments Challenging ACA’s “Contraception Mandate”

March 28, 2014 in Policy/Advocacy

Kayla HeadshotBy Kayla Patterson, Pedro Zamora Public Policy Fellow, AIDS United

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this Tuesday in a challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s “contraception mandate.” The Court will decide the federal government can mandate that private businesses owned provide health plans with no-cost coverage for contraception, even if doing so conflicts with the employer’s religious beliefs.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the so-called “contraception mandate” requires companies to provide health insurance plans with no-cost access to 20 forms of birth control for female employees. The challengers, two devoutly religious families and their private businesses, have an objection to four forms of birth control in the mandate: two brands of intrauterine devices (IUDs) and two brand of the “morning after” pill.  The families believe life begins at conception, and by covering those four forms of birth control, they would be “complicit in abortion.”

Those watching the case closely anticipate the Court to draw on precedent from certain cases examining the role of religion and employers’ rights. In 1990, the Supreme Court heard Employment Division v. Smith, ruling  that laws that apply equally to everyone do not have to make exceptions for religion. In response to Smith, Congress enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993, which states that the government cannot substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion unless that burden uses the least restrictive means to promote a very important interest of the government. The plaintiffs in this week’s hearings argue that the contraception mandate violated RFRA, thereby asserting that corporations are “people” and protected under the law.

Walter Dellinger, former solicitor general for President Bill Clinton, expressed to the difficulty of establishing that a corporation has a conscience that is being violated or overridden. If the challengers win, however, the Supreme Court could extend First Amendment protections to to corporations and expand RFRA protection for “persons” to include for-profit companies. Lyle Denniston, a journalist from, stated the two cases raise the profound question of whether a private, for-profit corporation can “exercise” religion and, if it can, to what extent current laws protect a corporation’s religious freedom.

The contraception mandate was prepared by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and follows a report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a non-profit division of the National Academy of Science. The IOM concluded that contraceptives are an effective tool to reduce unwanted pregnancies and reduce the number of abortions, but that many women do not have the resources to purchase contraceptives they need or those that will be most effective.

If the challengers win, female workers of the two companies involved and of other companies whose owners cite religious objections would have to personally cover costs of at least some birth control services. According to some women’s rights groups, millions of women could be affected. There is yet another possible alarming outcome: companies could impose their own religious beliefs on their employees in a way that substantially burdens an employee’s right to make her own decision on whether she wants to use contraception.

Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor both expressed concern that an exemption from providing birth control services to female employees could lead to companies finding other medical and non-medical services religiously objectionable. Though the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has a discrimination provision, it is unclear how far it will reach if the challengers were to prevail. There is the possibility that employers could seek exemption from HIV care coverage on religious grounds, as the virus remains highly stigmatized.

Justice Kennedy, though making arguments for both sides throughout the oral arguments, questioned if religion of the employers trumps employee’s religious views that may not be the same. Ultimately, Justice Kennedy emerged as the likely deciding vote.

To read the transcript of Tuesday’s arguments, click here. An audio recording of the Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. hearing is posted here.



March 25, 2014 in AmeriCorps

For our long term project, Team Detroit has partnered with Teen HYPE, a community-based organization that strives to “empower urban youth to thrive while strengthening their communities.” In our work at our host agencies, each of us has witnessed the need for investment in Detroit’s youth and we wanted to help Teen HYPE expand its capacity to do so. Teen HYPE was established in 2004 to empower youth through education, leadership development, and service. Teen HYPE provides diverse programs for  youth.  These include an after-school tutoring program, STD and HIV prevention education and testing, teen pregnancy prevention, and the performing arts activities. Most importantly, Teen HYPE is a safe haven for young people when they have nowhere else to go.

To commemorate 20 years of AmeriCorps and kick-off our long-term project, we helped coordinate and assisted with Teen HYPE’s 10th annual play, “Secrets.” Every year, the youth at Teen HYPE write and perform a play, which is performed for thousands of students from the city of Detroit. The plays address topics that affect children and teenagers on a daily basis, though are not discussed openly due to social stigma. “Secrets” was about the problems young people encounter and how they hide them from their loved ones. “Secrets” portrayed characters struggling with illiteracy at the age of 16, not having enough food to eat, and taking care of their younger siblings because of absent parents. Two of the characters had survived sexual violence. When they attempted to hide their problems from their friends and families, they suffered consequences that included a nervous breakdown, failing grades, and social exclusion. The play showed how important it is for children and teenagers to share their experiences with others and seek help by displaying the positive support that is available within the Detroit community. Although the subject matter was serious, the playwrights used humor, music, and dance to keep their audience alert and engaged throughout, a difficult feat considering a majority of the audience were 13-18 years old.

Secrets shared by Teen HYPE youth

Secrets shared by Teen HYPE youth

Team Detroit contributed by calling every Detroit public school to arrange ticket purchasing and transportation for the students, in the weeks leading up to the play. To recruit volunteers, we arranged for the tickets to have space available on the back for people who were interested in volunteering in the future to write their contact information. We will be contacting them to see if they would be willing to be added to our volunteer pool. On the day of the play, we put together lunches for the students who attended, helped sell concessions and merchandise, and ushered people to their seats.

The most meaningful part of this event for me was watching the kids of Teen HYPE perform their own work. Though it was heartbreaking to know that most of them had drawn upon personal experiences when writing the play and performing, one could see how truly empowering  it was for them to tell the world what they deal with on a daily basis while continuing to dance, sing, and laugh.

The youth featured in the play

The youth featured in the play

My host agency runs a syringe exchange program for injection drug users in Detroit. When we have new participants, we ask them as part of the enrollment questionnaire how old they were when they first started taking drugs.  Many of them say they started at ages ranging from 12-17 years old. Obviously, I am not privy to all aspects of people’s lives and cannot make an accurate conclusion. But watching the kids perform made me wonder if the lives of our clients who started injecting drugs at a young age would be any different if they had had an opportunity to be a part of something like Teen HYPE.

The event was incredibly significant and meaningful, serving as a reminder of why we do what we do every day. We are excited to continue working with Teen HYPE and will use the energy from the play to carry us through to the end!

Kamran, Jerome, and Lindzy are excited for the play!

Kamran, Jerome, and Lindzy are excited for the play!

Addressing the Issues of Women, HIV and Violence Together, Today and Every Day

March 10, 2014 in Access2Care, HIV/AIDS Awareness Days, Policy/Advocacy, Uncategorized

MDonze headshotBy Melissa Donze, Program Associate, AIDS United

Every year on March 10, National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day gives us the opportunity to raise awareness and bring attention to the continued impact HIV has on the lives of women across the country. Women and girls make up about one in four of the 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States, and a majority of these are women and girls of color. These women face barriers to accessing and staying in care, which is critical to their continued health and viral suppression.

When we talk about women’s health, however, talking about HIV alone isn’t enough; we must talk about violence too. Experiences of violence and resultant trauma have a significant impact on women’s health, especially for women living with HIV. Women living with HIV experience highly disproportionate rates of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compared to the general population of women: 55% have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV), twice the national rate; over 60% have been sexually abused, five times the national rate; and 30% have PTSD, six times the national rate. Trauma and PTSD are associated with poor health outcomes at each stage of the HIV care continuum, including disengagement from care, medication non-adherence and medication failure. Recent trauma is also linked with almost twice the rate of death among HIV-positive women.

In September 2013, we took a huge step forward in addressing these issues. The President’s Working Group on the Intersection of HIV/AIDS, Violence against Women and Girls, and Gender-Related Health Disparities, formed in March 2012, released a report that identified five objectives and recommended actions for federal agencies to increase interventions to link women living with HIV and affected by violence to much-needed services and care, as well as encourage broader prevention efforts and research. In response to this report, AIDS United, with generous support from AbbVie, convened a Summit with an interdisciplinary group of activists, thought leaders, academics, women living with HIV and federal partners to provide commentary and develop innovative community-driven advocacy and implementation strategies to address the intersection of women, HIV and violence. The strategies developed throughout the two-day meeting, summarized here, provide tangible steps we can take to ensure that the issues of women, HIV and violence are addressed together.

These experiences are lived by women and girls across the country every day, so while a single day to highlight the impact of HIV on women and girls is important, it simply isn’t enough. We must continue to have these conversations every day because violence is real and affects every aspect of women’s health, especially for women living with HIV, and it won’t go away tomorrow. Let’s use National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day to recommit ourselves to addressing HIV and violence together, for all the women in our lives.

Click here to view photos from the summit.

The Importance of Community Based Organizations for Women and Girls

March 7, 2014 in HIV/AIDS Awareness Days, Policy/Advocacy, Uncategorized

By Priya Rajkumar, Vice President of Client Health Services, Metro Wellness and Community Centers
On March 10th each year, National Women’s and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day brings to the forefront the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls. The unique challenges women face from partner violence, lack of child care, and absence of support and hope are issues which are often overlooked. Not to mention the impact of poverty and limited resources that is in the mix to manage.

Metro Wellness and Community Centers (Metro) has for so long understood the tremendous impact of these issues on women and girls. Providing gender responsive programming to help support, empower, and provide hope to women and girls infected and affected by HIV/AIDS has been a successful strategy in helping women to overcome numerous barriers to attain good health and stability in their lives. I am grateful to be part of the difference that Metro makes in the lives of the many women we serve. However, there is much more work to be done.

The theme for NWGHAAD “Share Knowledge, Take Action” holds true each and every day. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as of the end of 2010, one in four people living with a diagnosis of HIV infection in the United States were women. Black/African American women and Latinas are disproportionately affected by HIV infection compared with women of other races/ethnicities. Of the total number of new HIV infections among women in the United States in 2010, 64% occurred in blacks/African Americans, 18% were in whites, and 15% were in Hispanics/Latinas.

CBOs must continue to focus on at-risk women, including those who are left to support and care for children whose father is incarcerated, as well as women and girls who, because of their own criminal background, are struggling to find a job, cannot find adequate housing, and cannot afford proper nutrition for their children, much less find child care so that they can take time to seek medical care.

It is critical that community based organizations (CBOs) and advocacy groups continue to keep the discussion active around the issues women and girls with HIV/AIDS are living with every day. Many like Metro are effective in helping women and girls achieve good health outcomes through services like medical case management, support groups, behavioral health care, and much more. These CBOs offer expertise in finding innovative means to reach women and girls in their communities to provide education about HIV testing, prevention, and treatment options.

Metro, as a member of the AIDS United Public Policy Community, relies on the advocacy efforts of this body to share the very real successes happening in the field and to keep the discussion of the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls active. Without the advocacy, education and joint efforts, this very important work would not be able to continue.

As we host our own events and participate in other community events on NWAGHAAD, let’s strive to keep the awareness and recognition of the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls at the forefront of our discussions and encourage each other to take action towards reducing the burden of HIV/AIDS among women and girls.