AmeriCorps “Make A Difference Day” in North Carolina

November 8, 2010 in AmeriCorps

Team North Carolina took a break from our placement sites and spent October 23rd, 2010, Make A Difference Day, at the Durham Rescue Mission just outside of downtown Durham, North Carolina.  The team arrived bright and early on a chilly, but gorgeous Saturday to do landscaping and gardening for the Rescue Mission that serves those homeless and in need.  After a quick orientation and a lovely brunch (featuring cake, coffee and pizza) we joined several other volunteers for a beautification project outside that took several hours to complete.  It was well worth the work, however, as we took out weeds, overgrown plants and trees and replaced them with gorgeous flowers that will have the strength to survive and prosper throughout the winter.

Half of the garden before Team North Carolina got to give it a make-over.

This experience gave the team a unique opportunity to connect on a deeper level to various other members of our beloved community.  It was an opportunity to see humanity and to work directly for a tangible goal to beautify a community building and strengthen organization that offers a safe haven for so many members of our community that need that hope more than anything.

The Team is hard at work removing some overgrown and very stubborn plants

Being able to sit down and work with other volunteers was also a blessing for Team North Carolina as we received a warm welcome from Durham Rescue Mission representative Delaner Venable and other church volunteers, high school students and North Carolina Central University volunteers.  To see their resolve helped us to rejuvenate our own and really showed the pride that other locals have for their town.  Nurturing the garden together, in turn, really helped to nurture our team’s bond with the community and with each other.  Planting flowers and uprooting weeds and dead plants was the perfect representation for what we are all striving to do in our local communities.  We hope that through our work our communities will be able to shed what is holding them down and replace it with growth, beauty and inspiration.  Ultimately, we are committed to not only making a difference for one day, but to making a difference for years by creating sustainable change and leaving a lasting legacy.

Denechia, Susan, Brittany and Geoff all posing in front of a section of the garden. We were all dirty and tired but most certainly satisfied with a hard day’s work!

Overcoming Societal Barriers to Fight HIV

October 27, 2010 in Every Life Matters, Every Dollar Counts

by Mary Lou Moreno
Coordinator, Border AIDS Partnership, El Paso, TX
Member, National AIDS Fund Board of Trustees

My name is Mary Lou Moreno. I am Coordinator of the Border AIDS Partnership in El Paso, Texas. I am also a member of the Board of Trustees of the National AIDS Fund. I want to share with you today why the “Every Life Matters, Every Dollar Counts” campaign is so such an important initiative, and why it is so close to my heart. The money raised by this campaign will be directed solely toward communities of color, like the one I belong to, so that they can continue to support programs that fight HIV/AIDS in their respective communities. I can testify firsthand how important such assistance can be for communities such as mine.

About twenty years ago my youngest son tested HIV positive. He was 30 years old at the time. Fortunately, he has remained completely asymptomatic in the last two decades. He is a very positive individual and does everything possible to help himself and everyone around him.

Of course, when I first found out, I was devastated—back then, people didn’t know much about HIV/AIDS and it seemed like a death sentence. I started trying to learn everything I could about the disease, and have since been involved in working toward HIV/AIDS education and awareness in my community – largely through the Border AIDS Partnership, which I helped establish. We’re the only partnership that’s bi-national and tri-state: we have been providing funding for HIV/AIDS education and prevention activities in El Paso, Texas, Southern New Mexico, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The money we receive from the “Every Life Matters, Every Dollar Counts” campaign will be invaluable in allowing us to continue doing this work.

It is an uphill battle. We’re funding some of the poorest communities and a number of migrants. In El Paso, we’re primarily a community of color – pretty much Hispanic and Catholic. Our culture is different from a lot of other communities in the country. Twenty years ago especially, it wasn’t acceptable to talk about HIV/AIDS or about homosexuality. I’ll give you an example from my personal life. Our family ran a photographic business in our town. When my son and my stepson came out as being gay, we started working for various HIV/AIDS groups and organizations but didn’t talk too much about any of it in the community because we didn’t know how it would affect our livelihood.

Then one day, the steeple on El Paso’s only Catholic cathedral, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, was struck by lightning. One of the church members wrote a letter to the local newspaper, saying that this happened because of the church’s growing tolerance for gay people. There was an editorial in the paper about it that week – it was awful. That’s when my husband decided that it was time for us to do something about it. He talked to our boys and said he was going to appear on a talk show and take a stand – he would tell the world that his son and stepson are gay and that we support them fully. Our sons were all right with it. So, my husband and a very good friend of ours, a Catholic priest, went on the show together and talked about the Catholic Church being supportive of all God’s children. They emphasized that God created us all, and He doesn’t make any mistakes. As it turned out, it didn’t affect most of our customers. My husband got many positive calls, and very few negative ones from people who said they wouldn’t be doing business with us – which is fine because we don’t care to be doing business with people like them either!

Of course, it is very hard to change people’s views – some you do and some you don’t. Some Hispanic parents find it very hard to accept they have a gay son or a lesbian daughter. But there is always the possibility of change. After my son tested positive for HIV, my husband and I became active members of a national organization called Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) for a long time. All kinds of people would come and speak at those meetings – ministers who talked about accepting your children and about how to deal with HIV/AIDS, psychologists who’d talk about how homosexuality is not a choice but something you’re born with…. Sometimes, there would be a couple that wouldn’t be able to talk at the meetings. In those situations, we’d meet them either at their home or at a coffee place. My husband and I would tell them that we belong to a Catholic Hispanic community. Still, we both have sons who are gay and we have accepted it, and one of our sons is HIV positive and we are dealing with it. So we’d speak from our own experience and try to get the point across. Like I said, sometimes it would work, and sometimes it wouldn’t.

Over the last two decades, things have become much better in El Paso, thanks to the efforts of extraordinary individuals and organizations that have been working to spread awareness and acceptance. Which is why I am terribly proud to support the “Every Life Matters, Every Dollar Counts” campaign – a campaign that is helping raise funds for these community-based groups so that they can continue doing their outstanding work. From my personal experience, I know what an uphill battle it is for families and individuals dealing with HIV/AIDS – socially, economically, physically… Each one of us can make a difference; each one of us can help make this fight just a little bit easier.

Linking PLWHA in Louisiana to the HIV Care They Need

October 20, 2010 in Access2Care

by Michael Robinson, Program Coordinator
Health Systems Division- HIV/AIDS Programs
Louisiana Community AIDS Partnership
Louisiana Public Health Institute

According to 2008 statistics released recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Baton Rouge metropolitan area ranks second in the nation in AIDS case rates, and New Orleans is No. 3. Nationally, Louisiana ranked 5th highest in AIDS case rates and 11th in the number of AIDS cases diagnosed in 2007, according to the CDC 2007 HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report (Vol. 19).

As we here in Louisiana face one of our greatest Public Health threats, The Louisiana Community AIDS Partnership, a statewide collaborative convened by the Louisiana Public Health Institute (LPHI) in alliance with the National AIDS Fund (NAF) and the Louisiana Office of Public Health HIV/AIDS Program, is uniquely poised to make a meaningful impact in helping individuals access the support and care that they need by bringing much needed attention and funding from both the national and local level through public-private partnerships.  The Partnership is in its first year of implementing the Positive Charge Initiative, a multi-year effort aimed at helping to break down the barriers that prevent people living with HIV from receiving HIV care, treatment and necessary support. The initiative’s foundation rests upon strong partnerships with local area organizations to meet the unique needs of individuals living with HIV and will be implemented in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport.  Positive Charge is made possible by a grant from National AIDS Fund through a separate grant made by Bristol-Myers Squibb to NAF.

Over the course of the next three years, these partnerships aim to

1) Increase the number of persons living with HIV/AIDS who receive care by improving linkages to medical care and supportive services

2) Work together with the public hospital system, regional STD clinics, and Orleans Parish Prison to help individuals who are newly diagnosed with HIV get into care

3) Increase the number of persons living with HIV/AIDS, who have disconnected from care get back into a care environment that meets their continuing needs

4) Provide interventions that are implemented and led by HIV positive individuals, who will act as peer health case managers.

The relationship between LCAP and its grantees works well because LCAP does not see itself as a “funder” but as a partner with the agencies. This perspective has fostered a relationship where the Partnership is able to provide hands-on involvement in the development of the intervention, a rigorous plan for evaluation  and a capacity building and technical assistance plan for the agencies themselves.  The Partnership is working with partner agencies to implement the following programs:

1) Brief intensive strengths-based linkage case management (ARTAS model) will focus on those who are newly diagnosed to help them access care with the help of a linkage case manager.  Our partners for this intervention are St. John #5/Camp ACE and the Louisiana Office of Public Health HIV/AIDS Program. With this unique paring they will reach out to individuals in the Greater New Orleans area.

2) HIV-Specific Disease Intervention Specialist (DIS) will focus on those who have fallen out of care to connect persons identified in clinics as being out of care and those identified through public testing sites and the Louisiana Public Health Information Exchange (LaPHIE) network as being out of care. We are grateful to have The Louisiana Office of Public Health-STD Program and Office of Public Health-HIV/AIDS Program as our partners for this intervention.

3) Community Based Health Educator/Navigator in a hospital based clinic intervention focus on those who have fallen out of care in hospital based clinics through intensive follow-up after missed appointments. N’R PEACE, Inc., a local grassroots AIDS Service Organization and The ILH HIV/AIDS Outpatient Clinic will target its efforts in the New Orleans area.

4) The Pre/Post-Release Case Manager intervention will work with inmates who are HIV positive to provide case management services while in prison and attempt to assure continuity of care after release. Targeting individuals in the Greater New Orleans area, our partners NO/AIDS Task Force and Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) have the ideal relationship to assist these individuals.

5) And finally our Community Based Health Navigation intervention will focus on those who have fallen out of care in hospital based clinics to ascertain their needs and provide peer support. We believe that our partners, the Earl K. Long Earl Intervention Clinic (EKL-EIC) and Capital Area Reentry Program (CARP) are uniquely positioned in the Baton Rouge area to provide the most impact to individuals needing assistance.

The Partnership is particularly excited about the opportunity that Positive Charge brings to build upon and expand already existing programs that increase access to care for those with HIV/AIDS as well as adding innovative interventions that are proven to increase the chances that someone will feel comfortable accessing care. In addition, the Partnership is proud of our strong collaboration with the State HIV/AIDS program so that programmatic design, decision making and evaluation can be based on surveillance data which indicate the areas of greatest need and will help monitor the success of program interventions. We are discovering the Partnership’s greatest asset is its ability to partner with a diverse set of stakeholders who represent entities such as the public hospital system, grass roots community based organizations and the prison system. In addition, the Partnership is fortunate to have a very dedicated group of partners at all levels.

Indiana AIDS Walk

October 19, 2010 in AmeriCorps

Team Indy committed to assisting with setup, teardown, and working the day of the Indiana AIDS Walk & Ride.  It was pleasure to be able to work alongside so many partners of the Indiana AIDS Fund, local community groups, college organizations, and families.

The day before we spent about four hours setting up for the next day moving supplies to setup for canopies, dozens of cases of water, boxes, and just about anything else that needed to go to the park for the walk.  The day of for the AmeriCorps Team started promptly at 6:00am and finished around 7:00pm.  A 13 hour day that actually seemed to go rather quickly reflecting on everything that we did.

Team Indy 2009-2010 minus our Dearest Chloe Sidley (Alumni not including current members Left to Right: Amanda Quillen-Damien Center, Kyle Bonham-Life Care)

Team Indy 2010-2011 after an intense day of Getting Things Done

First thing in the morning was setup of canopies, tables, chairs, quilts, and health fair vendors.  Then we “tested out” the bounce house to be sure it was safe for the children.  We had a chance to mingle and be sure that all the health fair vendors had what they needed.  We even came up with ideas for a few new fifth days from meeting people in the field.  Second year members got a chance to chat with alumni but only for a moment, as eventually we split in half to place route monitors on the path of the walk downtown Indianapolis.  The path began at Meridian Street, went around monument circle, down the canal and back to the park.

The walk raised a total of $171,455.  There were more teams, participants, and volunteers than in the past.  All the funds will go towards DEFA to assist with emergency shelter, utilities, food, medicine, and other daily living needs.

Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day-Team Indy

in AmeriCorps

The team went to a local restaurant called 45 Degrees where Indy Pride (a local nonprofit seeking to educate and honor the GLBT communities) helped organize an event to raise funds to support clients.  October 30, 2010, immediately following the local production of Mary Poppins, there was a fundraiser that went to benefit the Indiana AIDS Fund and Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS.  There was a silent auction and the cast of Mary Poppins as well as local patrons exhibited their talents on stage.

We decided to participate in the event as a way to recognize National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

As a sort of “part two” on November 2, 2010 as part of the National Gay Men’s HIV Awareness Day, the team participated in a Drag Show called Sober Sirens.

The Indiana AIDS Fund “Team King” had a group of people who used to be substance abusers come together and decided for this to be the first year they put on a drag show fundraiser.

The team spoke at intermission about getting tested for HIV, and that safer sex kits were available.  It was conveniently located near the food and raffle tickets.  We kept it simple, as we were guests but anyone who needed more information knew where to find us.

Between the two events, there was approximately $4500 raised, with over $6,500 raised total to go to the Indiana AIDS Fund Walk & Ride which goes towards emergency assistance for clients.

One of the most important lessons we could have learned in working with these groups over the past week have been that we often have to reach outside of our comfort zone to find the best way to reach our clients.  In reaching out to the Gay Men in Indianapolis, it is not always simple to relate or be related to.  As a team we have all had the opportunity to grow in learning how best to reach the needs of all people.

National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day-Team Indy

in AmeriCorps

The Team decided to meet with a local community asset, Delores Horgan to identify the needs of our community and how we are responding to those needs as it relates to our elderly citizens.  Each Team Member took a moment to reflect on the time we spent talking with her, and below are those comments.

Dolores’s perspective on HIV-related issues was especially unique because of her personal connection to the disease combined with her involvement in the prevention community. She was able to describe the history and progress of HIV/AIDS care in Indianapolis as a first hand witness. As we spoke with her more, it was clear that she had an attentive connection with the people that she was reaching out to. I was surprised by the awareness of HIV Dolores described within the senior citizen community as well as the support of others in reaching out to this population. Even with this less explored group of at-risk individuals, the same barriers of misunderstanding and stigma still seemed to exist. In reaching out to the elderly and aging populations about HIV, there is a strong base of awareness to work with, but there is still much to be done.

From the discussion we had with Delores on Friday it stressed to me that HIV still has a stigma tied to it and people don’t realize that it can affect everyone. It is important that HIV/AIDS awareness is not just catered to younger generations but all since there is a rise in the senior population.

I felt that she brought a lot of honesty and humanity to our meeting on Friday.  By painting a picture that wasn’t all roses (and at times it was a bit depressing) she shed some light on some of the huge deterrents in getting people to accept this disease….

Aging and HIV is a topic that is not widely discussed because many think that the old do not engage in sexual activities. Studies show that the elderly over 60 still engage in sexual activities, and if this is true it is important to continue HIV education among this group as well. Proving this, 15 of the new diagnosed cases of HIV are those over the age 50. So, the discussion of HIV and sex education among the elderly should exist and needs to be implemented in the many HIV prevention campaigns.

I think it was important for our team to hear Delores speak about her experiences with HIV and the elderly since, even in the HIV world, it is a rarely discussed topic. People don’t like to think of senior citizens as sexually active, but they are. Senior citizens think that just because pregnancy is not a concern they have no need to use condoms, so they don’t. The combination of these beliefs has lead to rising numbers of STDs in the elderly population, yet there is still a significant lack of prevention and awareness available. It is reassuring to meet someone like Delores who is doing their part to help stop the spread of HIV in a population that is typically overlooked.

In reflecting upon the conversation we had with Delores it makes it that much more obvious to me that we cannot fall into the trap of thinking that HIV is only effecting a certain population.  In fact, the older population is temporary.  One day every other age group will become elderly-including the groups most infected now.  Unfortunately, knowing that there is a need is one thing, but actually being able to reach a community who seems to have no understanding of how it relates to them is the true obstacle here.  We can certainly begin by not marginalizing them in our outreach.