Team Indy- Make a Difference Day

November 9, 2013 in AmeriCorps

Team Indy mid-afternoon at Auntie Mame’s Child Development Center

Team Indianapolis banded together on October 26th at Auntie Mame’s Child Development Center to prepare for their 5th annual Fall Festival.

Auntie Mame’s provides high quality, culturally responsive early education and school age programs to equip children to become tomorrow’s leaders. As a team of nine, Team Indy worked to transform the basement corridors of the facility into a frightening haunted house, a pivotal attraction for their festival. The free festival provides the community with a safe place to celebrate Halloween. Traditional trick-or-treating is not an option for many of the local children as they live in a high crime neighborhood.

This year’s theme was to create a haunted corn maze. We worked tirelessly to cloak the walls in darkness, paint frightening murals, create spooky lighting and haunt the rooms with terrifying decorations. Transforming these few rooms and hallways was no easy feat. Who knew that stringing cobwebs was so difficult!

Erin streaming cob webs

Erin stringing cob webs

With only two employees working on the fall festival, Team Indianapolis provided the much needed power to conquer the daunting task and provided a bit of respite for those workers. Moreover, this was our first all day project as a team where we were able to delegate tasks, display teamwork, express our creativity and see a finished a product. Although we were unable to attend the festival, we are all proud to provide a safe and slightly frightening service to the community.

Sarah painting with fake blood.

Sarah painting with fake blood.

Team Chicago Makes A Difference!

November 7, 2013 in Uncategorized

On Saturday, October 26th, Team Chicago traveled to Chicago’s far west side to serve the Lewis School of Excellence in Austin, one of the city’s high-need neighborhoods. We worked alongside City Year Chicago and 300 other AmeriCorps members, community residents, parents, and teachers to “make a difference” by beautifying and organizing the school.

The Lewis School of Excellence is an AULS (Academy for Urban School Leadership) turnaround school. This means that the AULS has taken a school that has been chronically failing for years and has transformed it into a high-performing institution. They’ve put new trained leadership into the schools, from the principal to the teachers, and instated a new curriculum, with the hope that the school will become more successful. It only made sense that as the AULS transformed the students and staff, our team could heMLK Quotelp transform the learning environment which they inhabit each week.

Volunteers spent the day painting several murals around the school’s hallways and organizing the school’s library. Our team’s specific project was to help with the murals. When we first entered the building, the hallways didn’t have much art or color, aside from a few bulletin boards. Our team adorned the wall with paw prints (the school’s mascot is a Lion), portraits and quotes from influential African American leaders, an outline of Chicago’s famous skyline, and a wall of chalkboard paint where students could share their dreams for their futures.
Eric and Kassndra's New City

I am definitely a person who loves art projects and seeing color added to any space, so I was excited to bAnna and the Chalkboarde involved. A few hours into the project, as I carefully tried to stay within the lines of the Martin Luther King Jr. quote I had been assigned to paint, I wondered if the kids would truly notice and appreciate the colorful additions and effort that were being put into making the school beautiful. Later, as we sat in the school’s auditorium for the closing ceremony, their football team arrived back from a game (they won!) and walked around the school to see all the new artwork. They were honestly amazed at what we had done for the school, and they were so excited! In that moment, I really was able to see what an impact we had made on the Lewis School and its students.

Theresa and the Paw Prints

The kids at this school will come to a different school on Monday than the one they left on Friday. Their new school is filled with art and color and quotes that capture the strength and diversity of the Austin community. And who knows, maybe these murals will inspire ]a student at the school to learn something new or want to paint a mural of their own? Regardless, Team Chicago was proud to be a part of something that will be a presence in the Lewis School of Excellence for years to come.

Team Chicago!

Make a Difference Day in Cleveland

November 5, 2013 in Uncategorized


        It is nearing the end of October and all of us here on Team Cleveland are getting in to the swing of things at our placements and keeping busy with our work. On Saturday, though, we set all of that aside for the day to focus on making a difference in our community. We planned two service opportunities for the day, one at the Eliza Bryant Village and the other at the Zelma George Shelter in Cleveland.

The Eliza Bryant Village is a skilled nursing facility that provides different levels of care for senior citizens with a focus on compassion and quality of care. As a team, we participated in their Saturday Social. We started the morning off by playing Pokeno (Bingo, except with playing cards), and then spent time talking with the residents over snacks and more games. This was an enjoyable experience for many reasons. It was a lot of fun to be in the midst of the excitement when somebody would call out “Pokeno!” but it was also nice just to sit and listen to people’s stories and sit in the comfort of somebody else’s presence. This experience was a reminder of how valuable the knowledge and experiences of our older generations are, and how humbling it is to be in their presence. I think this experience impacted our community because it created connections between us as a team, and all of the people that we met that day at Eliza Bryant. There is something to be said for the importance of human connection and giving each other the time to sit, listen, laugh, and just be with each other.

In the afternoon, we as a team headed over to the Zelma George Family Shelter to help facilitate the Fall Festival. We arrived and helped with the set up in the gym. This included getting pin the nose on the Jack-O-Latern hung up, setting up pumpkin bowling and getting the snack table ready with pumpkin cookies and apple cider, while getting all the craft making material out and ready to go for mask-making. With all of that preparation, nothing could have prepared us for the high energy levels of the children who came running and screaming with excitement into the gym, ready to get Fall Festival started. It was immediate controlled chaos. All of the children went running to each station, checking out all of their options with sheer excitement. After all of the children had gone through each different game, made a sparkly mask,  and snacked on their share of cookies and apple cider, the event dispersed into other games, a popular one being jump rope. The afternoon was certainly a high energy one, but it is certainly rewarding to be a part of the process of getting children to run around, care-free and laughing, while their parents get to sit back and take a break while making their own masks while enjoying the snacks. I think this service opportunity had an impact on the community by providing a fun event for the children in the shelter related to the upcoming holiday season and festivities.

Festive Halloween masks from the craft table at the Fall Festival.

Festive Halloween masks from the craft table at the Fall Festival.

Overall, this day of service was an impactful one that reinforced the importance of compassion, generosity, and recognizing that each person, old and young, has their own important story to share with the world. It was a humbling day that served as a reminder of the strength that people have to share, to love, and to survive. It was an inspiration to continue doing quality work everyday and to remember that this is about making this world a better place for everyone, in all walks of life.


All of us at the end of Make a Difference Day!

All of us at the end of Make a Difference Day!

Make a Difference Day in Detroit!

November 1, 2013 in AmeriCorps, HIV/AIDS Awareness Days

Every year on the fourth Saturday in October, the nation’s single largest day of community service takes place, inspiring people nationwide to help improve the lives of others through a day of service. On October 26th, 2013, AIDS United AmeriCorps Team Detroit chose to answer Make a Difference Day’s call to service by volunteering with Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.

Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM) was founded in 1909, and is charged with the task of providing food, shelter and addiction recovery services to those impacted by homelessness and substance abuse. On average, the DRMM touches the lives of more than 1,400 men, women and children daily.

team detroit

For Team Detroit’s day of service, we served at DRMM’s Oasis house which provides emergency, transitional and permanent shelter to homeless men in the Detroit community. As the shelter provides three meals a day for shelter residents, preparation of these meals is no easy task. With that, Team Detroit was able to lend a hand both with preparing and serving the midday meal. We first helped by prepping a wide variety of cakes and pies to be served as dessert with the meal, and then were able to help prepare the main event, homemade pizzas. We had a pretty great assembly line going for this task, with Rose handling the sauce, myself handling the cheese, and Grace and Kamran handling the toppings. With the assistance and guidance of the kitchen staff, we had lunch ready to go in record time.


Team Detroit was responsible for serving the lunch to residents, with Rose, Grace and myself preparing the plates, Jerome on dessert detail and Kamran in charge of cutting the pizzas hot and fresh from the oven. The kitchen staff was intentional in considering those who do not eat pork or those who may be vegetarians in preparing the meal. Getting to interact with residents as they came through the line was an interesting experience for the team as a whole, with Team Detroit AmeriCorps Member Jerome describing the experience as humbling. Most of us were able to identify someone in the group that appeared to be a similar age as ourselves, which definitely had an impact on each of us. Additionally, while the kitchen staff goes to great lengths to provide meals that will appeal to most, as a team, we felt that it must be difficult for shelter residents to have someone or something determine what they will eat and how much. Homelessness is certainly an area of concern for the city of Detroit, as thousands of homeless individuals can be found on the streets of Detroit on any given night. While this project did not directly solve the problems related to homelessness in the city, it did allow us to serve a small portion of this population, and inspired each of us to consider the current state of need in Detroit.

team detroit

One of the things I think I most appreciated about this experience was the opportunity to see a different side of the homeless epidemic in Detroit. In my work at my agency, I do weekly prevention outreach shifts in the city in an effort to connect with commercial sex workers, many of whom are often homeless. Our Make a Difference Day project allowed me to see that the issues facing the city in regards to homelessness are complex and quite varied, spanning across men, women, and children of all ages and races. Additionally, volunteering alongside the DRMM staff was a pleasure, as they were all so grateful and appreciative of our service. The care and concern that the staff had for the residents shined through their work, and enabled AIDS United AmeriCorps Team Detroit to have both a positive and enlightening day of service.

357 days to go until Make a Difference Day 2014!

“Those who can, do. Those who can do more, volunteer.” ~Unknown


Team NOLA goes MADD

October 30, 2013 in AmeriCorps, HIV/AIDS Awareness Days

Team NOLA goes MADD? You may think 1) I don’t know how to spell “Mad” or 2) the AIDS United AmeriCorps Team New Orleans is actually going crazy. I promise neither are true. MADD stands for “Make a Difference Day,” a National Day of Service that took place on October 26.  On this year’s MADD, AIDS United Team NOLA set out to do some good ole soup kitchen volunteering.

Except this isn’t just any other soup kitchen. Food for Friends (FFF) is an outstanding food delivery service, delivering meals to home-bound folks who are affected by HIV in the New Orleans area- and soon Baton Rouge!  Although FFF has been around for over 14 years, its site was lost during Hurricane Katrina, leading the organization to run out of a temporary location for several years. Just recently it moved to a brand spankin’ new kitchen, with plans to expand its services to other cities in Louisiana and even to cancer patients who are unable to cook for themselves.


Our duties for the day started with packing and sealing the “dry good” breakfast. Each breakfast had 7 nonperishable items in it- all yummy and nutritious!  Jeremy, Louis, Rebecca and Morgan had a nice assembly line going while I managed the sealing machine (by the far the coolest machine I’ve ever played with). After all the meals were put in dry storage, we moved on to helping with the hot meals. Some of us scooped, some of us stacked, some of us sealed. We discovered Team NOLA’s hidden talent: assembly lines.

giving-food-webHoucine Harrabi, FFF’s fantastic and eccentric chef,  explained each part of the meal to us. He strives to make his meals healthy and delicious – which can be hard to do when making food for so many people. He even let us try out the meals because as he says- “I wouldn’t give any of our clients food I wouldn’t eat myself.” And let me tell you- IT WAS DELICIOUS. Shrimp pasta, spiced cauliflower, a yummy sauce (you can probably tell I don’t know anything about cooking). Our taste buds were very happy. Plus, Houcine has jazz blasting in his kitchen at all times. He is not only a master chef, but an unreal dancer and musician. The guy can do it all!

After sampling the hot meal for the day, we finished sealing and labeling all the meals. They ended up looking a little something like this:


Food for Friends serves about 50 clients right now, but will continue to expand in several ways. Glen Kahrman, the program manager, explained to us how the current program works and how he wants to make it even better. Right now, food is delivered to clients Tuesdays and Thursdays every week. There is also a food pantry clients can access when needed. Listening to both Glen and Houcine talk about their work made me truly thankful we have such humble, devoted people in this line of work.

This is such an important service in our community. Remembering to take medications, dealing with side effects, going to work, picking the kids up from school, trying to squeeze in some physical activity- yeah, having a warm, healthy meal waiting for you would be a nice relief. It’s another thing those affected by HIV don’ have to worry about.

Overall, our team really enjoyed our day with Food for Friends. I know I am extremely impressed with the quality of food and services provided to the clients- and I have volunteered in several soup kitchens in my life (pretty sure my mom was determined to volunteer at every soup kitchen in the state during my reluctant teenage years). This is a valuable organization that is serving our community the best it can. I sincerely cannot wait to see how it grows in the coming years.Team NOLA will continue to volunteer with FFF in the coming months- we even get to help them make pies for Thanksgiving!

teamnola-webTo end with a cheesy but true statement- everyday should be thought of as “Make a Difference Day”. Go MADD, give back, learn about your community.





Guest Blog: “I Hear Stories that Make My Heart Ache”

October 18, 2013 in Budget and Appropriations, Policy/Advocacy

photo---JasonBy Jason Cianciotto, Director of Public Policy, GMHC

What could our movement to end the HIV epidemic accomplish with $24 billion?

According to an estimate from the financial services company, Standard and Poors (S&P), that is what the government shutdown cost the U.S. economy. The same political leaders heralding austerity as critical to our nation’s future facilitated shenanigans that cost nearly 30% of the $85 billion cut by sequestration this year.

This is why I woke up Thursday happy the shutdown ended but even angrier. Amidst this political theater, the real-world affects of federal funding cuts have received little attention. This is especially the case for people living with HIV/AIDS.

It’s time for that to change.

Earlier this week CNN shed light on the consequences of sequestration with a video ( featuring how cuts have affected programs and services at GMHC. The list is long and depressing: Food pantry bags cut 47%; substance abuse counseling sessions cut 20%; mental health counseling sessions cut 10%; 500 hours of legal counseling services cut; multiple layoffs; a furlough of the entire agency for 1 week; and much more.

Of course, our real focus should be on how these cuts affect the people who come to us for lifesaving services every day. When I spend time with them I hear stories that make my heart ache. One was shocked to learn that he could no longer receive additional portions from our hot meals program, the only nutritious meal he is able to get per day to help mediate the side effects of his medication. Another became distraught after learning that there was now a one-month waiting list to access individual mental health counseling.

As GMHC’s interim CEO Janet Weinberg shared in the CNN video, it’s not like there are other organizations with increased capacity to whom we can refer people in need. These cuts have caused every organization to bleed.

Just a few days before the shutdown, I joined several colleagues from the AIDS United Public Policy Committee for a Congressional visit day focused on the effects of the sequester. We met with several staffers of Members of Congress, including those representing our respectivehome states, Congresswomen Pelosi’s office, and the Health Legislative Aids for House Speaker John Boehner. Our visits with allies produced a unanimous message to bring home: We must actively pursue media outlets and allies to educate the public and lift the voices of people who oppose these draconian federal funding cuts.

Now that the shutdown drama is over, it’s urgent that we re-focus on sharing these stories. The stigma and fear still connected to HIV means that we have to find ways to both empower those willing to share publicly and protect those in need by being their voice when meeting with political leaders and the media.

We also must acknowledge that it will be extremely challenging for our allies in Congress sitting on the new super committee to roll back the sequester. We know that conservatives are already fighting to reduce the cuts to defense programs in sequester phase 2. They will not be as generous to the non-defense-discretionary programs that provide food, housing, and life-saving medication to people living with HIV/AIDS.

Despite these challenges, I still fundamentally believe that we can successfully restore federal support for the fight to end the HIV epidemic. We need to leverage public backlash against those responsible for the shutdown and debt ceiling scare to move political leaders to the center and support candidates in the mid-term election who understand our collective social and moral responsibility to care for each other and provide for our nation’s health.

AIDS United provides a critical structure for us to combine our time, talent, passion, and stories to call for policy change as a strong and unified lobby.

GMHC is a member organization of AIDS United’s Public Policy Committee (PPC)