Bicycling through MLK Day of Service in Cleveland

January 22, 2014 in AmeriCorps

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Team Cleveland volunteered with the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op on Martin Luther King Day. The Ohio City Bicycle Co-op (OCBC) is a volunteer-driven, cooperative, non-profit, bicycle education center. Began in 2001, OCBC provides bicycle education such as traffic skills, road safety, and bike maintenance, as well as producing cycling events. It also works with many Cleveland schools, providing bicycles for different riding programs.

The OCBC also collects donations of old bicycles in any state of repair in order to keep the usable and recyclable parts from going to the landfill. The bikes are repaired and sold in the cooperative bike shop, however many are earned by volunteers. In this Earn a Bike program, OCBC volunteers log their hours and earn points that they can use in the bike shop. They can trade in fewer points for a bike that still needs a lot of repair and take the offered classes on bike repair to fix it themselves or trade in a larger number of points for an entirely repaired bicycle from the shop.

Team Cleveland was able to assist the bike co-op with erecting some bicycle racks for storage, cleaning and lubricating bicycles, and sorting through bike spokes. We were the only volunteer group dedicating our whole day to the project, so we got to take on some leadership roles and taught other volunteer groups what projects needed to be done and how to go about doing them. I enjoyed the mechanical labor of moving bikes back and forth and the large amount practical knowledge we gained about bicycles just in the one day that we were with OCBC.

At the beginning of the day, when we were instructed about the day’s project list and saw the amount of bicycles that needed to be moved in order to erect the racks, it was a little daunting. However, with the number of volunteers that OCBC had recruited we were able to accomplish tasks quickly.

It was clear that the bike co-op badly needed the organization that the bike racks provided, as well as the other cleaning and sorting tasks we were able to accomplish. It felt good to know that the work we were able to do in one day saved the OCBC multiple days of busy work. Our projects were not direct service to the folks using the bike co-op’s services, but we were able to support the OCBC staff, so they have more time to implement their meaningful work.

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Guest Blog: Continued Rise in STD Rates Threaten Our Fight Against HIV

January 16, 2014 in Lady Bloggahs

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By Stephanie S. Arnold Pang
Director of Policy and Communications, National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD)

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the 2012 STD Surveillance report, which is a compilation of statistics and trends for the three reportable sexually transmitted diseases in the United States (chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis). In 2012, STD rates for all three diseases continue to increase, particularly in young people and men who have sex with men (MSM).

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There are many facts in this report which should give great pause to any of us working in the STD and HIV prevention and treatment field. Rates of primary and secondary syphilis rose a dramatic 11.1%. This increase was seen solely among men, particularly MSM. Trend data shows that MSM account for 75% of the primary and secondary syphilis cases. Rates of chlamydia, a disease that is most prevalent in women, rose in men 2012, but not in women.

Gonorrhea rates also rose for the third year in a row, rising 4% in 2012. The rates in men, however, rose over 8%. Every new gonorrhea infection can facilitate the transmission of HIV and can undermine HIV prevention efforts. Increasing gonorrhea rates continue to be deeply troubling due to rising drug resistance in gonorrhea and thanks to our surveillance networks, we know that the highest rates of gonorrhea resistance are in MSM.

This data also show that both the case and rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea continue to be highest in people 24 and younger. Almost 60% of reported cases of gonorrhea occur in this population. A shocking 70% of cases of chlamydia are in young people below the age of 25.

All of this spells trouble for the HIV epidemic. We will never reduce the number of new HIV cases without reducing the number of STD cases, particularly in the populations hardest hit by our STD epidemics: young people, people of color, and MSM. It is not coincidental that these are similar populations disproportionally affected by HIV.

Any STD increases your risk of both acquiring and transmitting HIV. Data also suggest that as many as 40% of MSM with syphilis are also co-infected with HIV. Additionally, research has also found that active STD infections can increase the level of HIV found in the semen of MSM, even if no HIV was found in the blood. This NCSD resource also lays out in more detail the how STD prevention strengthens the approach to HIV prevention.

Those on the front lines of the overlapping STD and HIV epidemics need to continue to prioritize young people, people of color, and MSM, or risk allowing the heavy burdens of these diseases to continue to rise among these populations. All HIV providers should also use the CDC STD screening and treatment guidelines to their advantage and as a tool to keep their patients protected from STDs. All who are providing HIV and STD services need to test for both HIV and other STDs, no matter where their clinics are located.

Rising STD rates greatly threatened our fight against HIV. We can’t afford to work in silos—as it turns out, these diseases do not.

Team NOLA and Walgreens come together to Fight AIDS!

January 3, 2014 in AmeriCorps, HIV/AIDS Awareness Days, World AIDS Day

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Louie and his coworkers at the Walgreens testing in Algiers.

World AIDS Day has always been one of my favorite days of the year. You may be thinking- “What the heck?”- but it’s true. World AIDS Day is like the Superbowl for HIV prevention workers. It’s a day to observe how far we’ve come but reflect on how much more there is do. It’s a day to pay our respects to the millions who have lost their battle to the disease, while thanking and supporting the friends and families of those who have passed. It is also the day I bombard and bother my Facebook friends about getting tested without them replying, “Is HIV all you ever post about?” (Yes, but hey, someone’s got to do it!)

Team NOLA had quite an eventful World AIDS Day (and week). We collaborated with two different Walgreens  in order to offer free HIV testing to their customers. Louie’s agency, Priority Health, offered free testing in Algiers. Louie and his coworkers tested a total of 20 people in just a couple of hours!

NO/AIDS Task Force, the agency where Jeremy, Rebecca, and I are placed, offered free testing at the Walgreens in Uptown New Orleans. Our AmeriCorps team tested a total of 25 people in four hours. It was a huge success! The Walgreens manager gave us two private rooms. While Rebecca and I were testing and counseling, Jeremy and Louie took care of recruiting and keeping track of people waiting for their results. As cheesy as it sounds- we worked really well as a team and got some great feedback. Testing and counseling is what I love most about my placement, so I was thrilled to be a part of the Walgreens testing event. We even got a local Bounce radio station to come to the Walgreens and advertise our services. Almost all of the clients said they had heard there was free testing on the radio- so hey, whatever works!

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Our portable HIV testing kit!

Our agency offers free testing throughout the week, but we found that offering free testing in a convenient location brings in WAY more people. Buy shampoo, formula, chocolate…and get tested for HIV! The manager was so impressed with our team that she asked to make it a more regular event. Our AmeriCorps team will be in charge of helping to set up this wonderful opportunity, and we couldn’t be more excited.

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Jeremy, Alicia (volunteer), and me at the Walgreens testing event

 Of course there can’t be all work and no play. On Saturday, December 7th NO/AIDS Task Force held its Annual “Art Against AIDS” fundraiser. The fundraiser is an art auction and party at the New Orleans Museum of Art. AmeriCorps Team NOLA got all fancy and hit the gala- making sure to find the dance floor eventually. We had a wonderful time -and I only fell once in my heels!

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Left- Louie and me with our “Art Against AIDS” souvenirs Right- Louie, Me, Morgan, and Jeremy getting fancy

So all in all, World AIDS Day was a huge success over in New Orleans. Even the Superdome participated :)

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Until next time,

Helene

World AIDS Day with Team Cleveland

December 14, 2013 in AmeriCorps, Harm Reduction, HIV/AIDS Awareness Days, World AIDS Day

Team Cleveland in front of Care Alliance's testing Van at World AIDS Day

Team Cleveland in front of Care Alliance’s testing Van at World AIDS Day

This year for World AIDS Day,  team Cleveland partnered with the AIDS Funding Collaborative and Care Alliance Health Center to do outreach and testing at Tower City. In preparation for World AIDS Day our team created harm reduction business cards to be handed out alongside support ribbons. Throughout the day team members canvased public square and RTA bus/train stations handing out harm reduction cards, ribbons, and condoms. Care Alliance brought their outreach van where members did testing and HIV education.

At the end of the day all ten thousand of our harm reduction cards had been passed out, 58 HIV tests had been performed, and hundreds of condoms had been distributed! What an amazing number of people reached, and all in less than ten hours!

As an AmeriCorps member it is sometimes hard to see the impact we are making in our communities, at our placements, or with the individuals we work with. Often the work we do tends to have more long term effects rather than immediate results. Knowing the number of people reached or tests performed is satisfying because we can quantify our efforts into something tangible. However, the impacts made by outreach efforts such as World AIDS Day go far beyond these numbers.

Each condom, harm reduction card, and support ribbon is a seed planted within the mind of the receiver. The people we reached out to displayed a variety of reactions when offered free condoms and information about HIV. Some were delighted and intrigued while others were confused or disapproving. Regardless of their reaction, the important part is that for a split second we were able to get them to think about HIV and the importance of condom use.

Seeds don’t always germinate right away, and sometimes it takes multiple planting before a seed takes root. However, each outreach effort, condom, and harm reduction card is one more seed planted. One more step closer to the end of HIV.

Cooking Up an Exciting World AIDS Day with Team Chicago

December 12, 2013 in AmeriCorps, World AIDS Day

To commemorate World AIDS Day (December 1, 2013), Team Chicago hosted an HIV testing event at Kendall College, a local college which specializes in culinary arts and hospitality.

This testing event not only provided us an opportunity to run an event on our own (without immediate aid or supervision of any other organizations), but it required us to work in an environment we weren’t used to, and with a population that our organizations rarely target. It was definitely an eye-opening experience for us, and perhaps more so for the Kendall College students.

We had a full day planned, which involved passing out condom packets (with candy, of course), HIV and other health information brochures, and providing free confidential rapid HIV testing to those who were interested.

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Eric arranging condom packets and brochures

Initially, we received a lot of interesting looks and responses. Many of us are accustomed to working in LGBT locations or clinics, where the ideas of practicing safer sex and seeking HIV testing are often drilled into you at every opportunity, so it was surprising, but reminded us that HIV can still carry a large amount of stigma in the rest of the world.

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Kassandra, Eric, and Sara providing outreach (and fun!)

Some students were very cautious about interacting with us, but would discreetly grab condom packets as they passed. Eventually, a few students warmed up enough to us to get tested. By the end of the event, we interacted with over 50 Kendall College students (and staff!), and tested over 20 people. Interestingly, only 1 of the students we tested identified as a male. This emphasized to us the importance of being aware of the many populations that could be affected by HIV, and of not being limited in our thinking of the people we should be targeting.

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Team Chicago after a job well done!

A few days following the World AIDS Day event, Team Chicago volunteered with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago’s World of Chocolate (an annual event that raises money to support AFC’s many programs by providing guests with a room full of myriad chocolate-themed concoctions). One of the many chocolatiers at the event was none other than Kendall College, with some students we’d interacted with even recognizing and thanking us for providing testing and information.

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A selection of the delicious chocolate provided by Kendall College!

It was a tasty end to a great week and World AIDS Day!

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Team Chicago at AIDS Foundation of Chicago event World of Chocolate

You want me to plan World AIDS Day?!?

in AmeriCorps, World AIDS Day

In early October my supervisor asked me to plan the Damien Center’s World AIDS Day event. I was immediately overwhelmed. What was I supposed to do? How did one organization celebrate such an important event? I picked my co-workers’ brains and perused the internet for ideas. This year’s theme on AIDS.gov was “Shared Responsibility: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-Free Generation.” As we move forward to an AIDS-free generation, we must remember and understand the path that has made this possible. So I decided to celebrate the progress that has been made in the HIV/AIDS World AIDS Dayfield.

I wanted this celebration to remember the past, but also have fun activities that our clients, the staff, and the public would enjoy. I reached out to our talented and always eager Damien Center volunteers. It wasn’t long before I had musicians, massage therapists, a yoga instructor, and even a Zumba instructor lined up for the event. A pharmaceutical company even agreed to provide lunch and give a presentation about the history of HIV/AIDS. The presentation complemented a timeline that we hung in the main lobby noting key events in HIV’s history.

On Wednesday December 4 (World AIDS Day is on Dec. 1, but due to the Thanksgiving holiday we celebrated on the 4th), the event went off without a hitch! The waiting area was filled with the sounds of live music provided by local musician, Candyce Fujita, while three massage therapists offered back massages to everyone who walked by. In the conference room beginning yoga and Zumba classes were being offered for anyone wanting to try something new. The volunteers surprised me with their talents and exceptional generosity. The event was well attended and everyone said they enjoyed the day.

 While planning the event I realized several things. 1) There are many talented people willing to volunteer their time and skills if they are asked. 2) Community connections are important. 3) We need to celebrate our accomplishments more often. 4) Back massages and Zumba make any day amazing!!!

Catherine is a member of AIDS United’s AmeriCorps Team in Indianapolis, IN.