Thursday, December 18, 2008

World AIDS Day Team Tulsa

Monday, we kicked off the first day of a week-long World AIDS Day event at my host agency, The University of Tulsa. With campus wide sponsorship and support, I planned and facilitated a three day testing challenge at which Sam, Erica, and I tested a total of 38 students during lunch over a three day, 12 hour period. Students received free t-shirts for being testing and several professors offered extra credit to students who volunteered at and attended the main even. 
The week ended with an evening dinner and a panel discussion.
I am still receiving phone calls and compliments about the impact of the event on those in attendance. Everyone was really moved by the stories of the guest speakers which consisted of two heath professionals/prominent community members who are both infected with HIV, the regional rep. of the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt (who spoke about the panel displaying fallen Tulsans), and a local doctor working in the field for over 20 years who provides groundbreaking client care to over 350 local HIV patients. 
There was such a surreal quality to the evening, every aspect of this event made this epidemic feel so urgent and important. I was especially moved to see one speaker become emotional when he realized that someone featured on the AIDS Quilt was a very close friend of his. Another speaker shared her story of being infected by her college sweetheart when she was only 21 years old.
Yolanda Arnold
Team Tulsa

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

World AIDS Day - Team Indy

World AIDS Day: December 1, 2008

Part One
Church of grandeur.
Prestige, Responsibility, and Power walk through the doors
In the form of the leaders and directors in HIV prevention and outreach in Indiana.
The guests make a small dent in the large sanctuary
With their new red-ribbon pins adorning their lapels.

The atmosphere is mellow –
Fueled by the AIDS Quilt which invites reflection
And the names of Hoosier victims that scroll across the screen.
Candles are passed.
The choirs sing.
The pastor opens the podium for the professionals to share the facts:
HIV IS in our state; it has left its mark; and it shows no discrimination.
Then to the video and discussion on HIV in Kenya that briefly takes us to another place.
We sing; we pray; and we conclude: “remembering, bearing witness, and living hope.”

I cut out early to make it to a second event.

Part Two
At the other end of the city, I enter a public building.
The room is packed.
I find myself as the minority and can quickly count the white people in the room.
I recognize clients, fellow case-workers, and volunteers.
The dinner, the music, and the stories have passed.
I take my seat just in time for the fashion show to begin.

It is a celebration of life, of those who have fought and continue to fight the battle in their bodies and in society.
Of those whose lives have been affected, but still find reasons for joy.
The energy is high.
I find myself at ease and honored to be a part of something so profound.

The moment I had been waiting for finally arrives.
The client I had been seeing for months was about to present.
Though he and I had spent hours discussing employment, income and housing,
Medications, side-effects, drugs, and struggles
Tonight was the night I was able to see his passion.
Tonight was the night he was not known as an HIV survivor, unemployed, or too sick to make his appointment.
Tonight he was a much anticipated fashion designer.

I could not have been more proud.
I was deeply touched by the support he received in that venue –
Support that could propel him through the difficult days ahead.
This is what is needed, I thought; this is what it is really about.

A Reflection

The contrasting events each served their purpose.
The first, an atmosphere for professionals to remember;
The second, a place for clients to celebrate.

I drove home with an appreciation for diversity in Indianapolis.
Many different people dedicated their evenings to the AIDS cause.
I was encouraged to see their support and excited to witness their advocacy.

But I also drove home with the recognition for the need of unity;
Why two starkly different events
That separated races and classes?

I realized that Indianapolis has room to grow –
Not only in testing, educating, and caring for the masses,
But also in sharing, supporting, and celebrating with one another.

Amanda Quillen
Team Indianapolis
National AIDS Fund/ Caring Counts AmeriCorps 2008-2009

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

World AIDS Day, Team DC

To honor World AIDS Day, our team helped at The Women’s Collective WAD Celebration. The Women’s Collective provides comprehensive life services to African-American women in the DC area. They work to create a safe, non-judgmental environment for all women, girls and families. TWC is a warm, friendly building with a staff that obviously cares about everyone who walks through their doors.
Our day began with a time for food and fellowship followed by an exciting (to say the least) presentation about safer-sex techniques. Women from all over the city and even a few men learned about condoms, stds, and how to pleasure themselves and their partners from a woman clad only in tights and a bustier. We were both informed and entertained. Many questions followed and even a pop quiz with a prize for the winner was given.
The group then listened to presentations from five of our AmeriCorps members about the services their host organizations provide to women. Our members from HIPs, Our Place, Miriam’s House, The Women’s Collective and Children’s National Medical Center were there to talk about their programs. This was followed by a panel discussion and an opportunity for questions. Everyone seemed happy to learn about our placements and all the great things they are doing for DC.
Next, a visitor from the DC Rape Crisis Center treated us to a crash course in self-defense. She taught our group how to confront everything from cat calls to muggings. We all repeated the phrase “elbow, elbow, smash that crotch!, kick the knee, scrape the shin, stamp the foot!” By the end of our session everyone felt safer, empowered, ready to defend themselves on the street, and a little tired.
These activities all tied into the larger aim of our celebration and the goal of both World AIDS Day and The Women’s Collective: to empower people physically, emotionally, and mentally and to become a tighter, more informed community. People of all backgrounds joined together to celebrate those strong women who have passed, those who are struggling, and those who are surviving.
Women asked important questions and received valuable information. We all worked together to build a stronger, more empowered community. We laughed, we cried, and we kicked imaginary assailants in the knees. All in all it was a fun day and the perfect way to spend World AIDS day: celebrating what we have and making strides towards a bright future.

Adam Pepper and Rachel Gutfreund
National AIDS Fund AmeriCorps, Team DC 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

Team Charlotte World AIDS Day

Team Charlotte- World AIDS Day Reporting

For World AIDS Day Team Charlotte was lucky enough to get to participate in a testing event at The University of North Carolina Charlotte. Student organizations and the Health Services office organized a day of HIV awareness and invited the county Health Department and Team Charlotte to bring information and services to complete their program. The day focused on trying to stop the ongoing spread of HIV through the uniting of these groups and a push for everyone to know their status. Students were encouraged by fellow classmates and campus staff to take the time to recognize World AIDS Day and get tested. Team Charlotte was on hand to help support the seventy four students who tested and to provide hundreds of other students on campus with vital facts and information to protect themselves and live healthier lives.
Two members of the team worked the information table in one of the main hubs on campus. They were able to provide condoms, statistics, and impart their knowledge on students as they pass from class to class, sending many of the seventy four who tested in the right direction. These two team members stood alongside ten student groups who had also set up information tables as a sign of their support in the fight to educate young people. The remaining four members of Team Charlotte helped the Health Department staff counsel and test seventy four students in a matter of a few hours. This task could not have been accomplished without the enthusiasm and organization of these four team members. Not only did these four women help things run smoothly, they were there to help bring support to nervous students who were getting tested for their first time.
It was an amazing experience to be able to see the coming together of all these young people, all very close in age to the members of our team, and to get to help them in empowering and educating themselves. The slogan of the day, “Are you positive you’re negative” resonated throughout the school and everyone involved in the days event felt an overwhelming sense of pride for the number of students who were able to say that in fact, they were positive they’re negative.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

World of Desserts: Team Detroit's World AIDS Day Service Project

Carrie, Kara, DiAnt'e and Stacie at World of Desserts

This is DiAnt'e from team DETROIT!! I'm honored to discuss with you a joyous occasion that Team Detroit had in honor of World AIDS Day. Our team volunteered at a fundraiser called, 'World Of Desserts'. The fundraiser was to benefit The Michigan AIDS Fund and also to celebrate the new merger between the Michigan AIDS Fund and the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project (MAPP). The event was hosted by Fox 2 News anchor Charles Pugh (who is also a DJ on WJLB in Detroit) and featured prominent politicians, healthcare workers, and volunteers. Detroit locals, as well as many from the surrounding areas, came out to show support. The benefit consisted of many vendors from the Detroit metro area showcasing the very best desserts that Detroit has to offer.

Our duties consisted of everything from setting up the venue to coat-check to actually taking part in making desserts (me!). Overall, we enjoyed ourselves and were honored to be a part of this event. This benefit helped the Michigan AIDS Fund and Midwest AIDS Prevention Project kick off the new merger between the groups into a new organization serving our community: the Michigan AIDS Coalition. Our new partnership allows a greater chance at making a greater difference in the field of HIV/AIDS in the Detroit area every day!

DiAnt'e Washington
Team Detroit

Team Detroit Makes a Difference at Alternatives for Girls

Peaches, Kara and Usama all working hard!

As a team we decided to make a difference at Peaches' agency, Alternatives for Girls; a homeless shelter that also provides substance abuse treatment and other forms of life skills building for young women ages 12-21. Our day began with buckets and towels to clean AFG’s kitchens (there were 4 of them). We split the team and the work and began making a clean new difference at AFG. The work was not a grand-scale parade but it was very rewarding and fun to be part of a Make a Difference Day.

Stacie Cooper
Team Detroit

Thursday, December 11, 2008

World AIDS Day, Team Chicago

For World AIDS Day, Team Chicago volunteered at World of Chocolate, a fundraiser for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC). We volunteered as part of the event strike crew, which meant we were free to sample the buffet and different chocolate concoctions from local restaurants and chocolatiers. One of my favorite vendors, the Palmer House, offered chocolate ice cream made with liquid nitrogen, and truffles stuffed with pop rocks.

In addition to visiting with staff from the AFC, our team had the opportunity to meet and talk with many of last year's NAF AmeriCorps members who are still in the area. We had a nice time discussing our host agencies and swapping stories.

As the event wound down it was time for us to get to work. We collapsed decorations and packed up bazaar items to store for next year. The work was both humorous and trying at times as we marveled at the variety of items available and struggled to find enough boxes and bubble wrap to store them. Every time we thought we had reached the end another glittery snowflake would appear seemingly out of nowhere. When the last box was finally packed we emerged, exhausted, into the frigid Chicago night with sweet memories dancing in our heads.

Elise Niedermeier
Team Chicago

Monday, December 1, 2008

It felt strangely familiar, traveling to Gallup for a conference and preparing to meet with AmeriCorps members from across the state of New Mexico. I was hoping it would be exciting and educational, but if not, at least it would be an experience. After a brief car ride of four hours (!) we arrived in Gallup to find it dryer than it had been in the central part of the state. We were in a border town of New Mexico checking into a conference in a known haunted hotel! The team was buzzing about the opportunity to enjoy this networking, but no one seemed too excited about any of the courses offered or the opportunity to work at the Red Rocks State Park conducting maintenance of the facilities. I couldn’t help remembering our disappointment last year on Make a Difference Day in Gallup when we found out that we would not actually be building a house for Habitat for Humanity, but digging trenches instead. It all seemed strangely familiar.
Most of us found the conference boring, the classes uninteresting and the celebratory dinner underwhelming. It felt as if the facilitators were not expecting as many of us. We networked with the other teams across the state. Most of the AmeriCorps members there were Teach for America members and I felt we made a difference in exposing them to HIV issues. We all shared the goal of “getting things done.” The major topic of conversation was “Where were you placed and what are you doing there?” Some members were placed in a deforestation program in Ruidoso to prevent forest fires in small New Mexico towns. Unfortunately, we did not truly bond with most of the attendees and felt they didn’t really acknowledge our contribution to AmeriCorps.
When it came to the AmeriCorps members working on the Red Rocks grounds or helping the children find their perfect pumpkins for Halloween, some of us thought it worthwhile and had a lot of fun. Others felt it a waste of time.
Overall, it was not all it could have been and as a team we agreed that the AmeriCorps National AIDS Fund Pre-Service was a blockbuster smash hit while the New Mexico AmeriCorps kick-off was a straight to DVD movie!
Ben and the rest of us homies!

For the 18th annual Make A Difference Day, Team Charlotte gathered together at a small church near the downtown area of Charlotte to make a difference in the lives of young children and adults of a high risk community. Here, we took part in a program called “Shac Saves Lives - Challenge Yourself Project.” This project, led by the devoted member of the church—Pastor Ann—is about having young people help others succeed. Although Pastor Ann had attempted to create a big extravaganza for the day, when Team Charlotte convened together for the actual event, we found ourselves involved in a very small and intimate gathering of people from the surrounding community –not what we expected.
...Nevertheless, some members on the Team gained special insight from seeing and hearing about the hardships that the members of the community had been through. Furthermore, the adults who were in attendance kept expressing how neat it was to see a group of young adults with such passion for humanity and equality give their time to show up to a small event like their own for Make A Difference Day. Overall, the members of Team Charlotte grew from this event by learning how to cope with unexpected hurdles. Even though we had prepared to give educational talks to a big group of teenagers and a big group of elementary school aged children, we were able to shift our focus and cater to the small group of adults and young children in attendance. The true successes were not in the things that Pastor Ann had planned, the successes came from the fact that Team Charlotte was able to remain flexible... So even though the Make A Difference Day event was not what Team Charlotte was expecting, our Team still learned something from the event.

Team Charlotte

Emmaus Ministries, located on Chicago's North Side provides counseling and resources to men engaged in prostitution. Many of the men are homeless,addictted to drugs, mentally ill or HIV positive and they rely on the Emmaus Ministry for meals, clothing and an address.

Team Chicago cooked a simple meal for the men. It was the most fulfilling time spent with them just talking and making them feel comfortable with us being in their space. No judgement. Just lots of fun and laughter. One Americorps member even played the piano. The men told us that they had never opened up to a group before. But with us Americorps Team Chicago they were willing to talk and share some of their experiences. They had a ball as did Team Chicago.

Regina Moffett
Team Chicago

Make a Difference Day, Team DC

...From the moment Team DC gathered together at the Hyattsville Visitor Center our force was one to be reckoned with. Maybe it’s simply the AmeriCorps sweatshirts that each of us wore, but I think it had more to do with the strength in our numbers and the can-do vibe we always tend to emit. I was reminded in those first moments of gathering with the team that our spirit as a whole is what pushes us forward and sets us apart. It is what will lead each of us during our year of service.
...Although our phsical service on that day was limited by the weather, each of us on Team DC wore a smile as we picked up trash, set up for a barbecue, and got to know people from the surrounding area as they gathered to have a picnic. Everywhere we went, people stopped to talk to us, ask us what we were up to, and thanked us for being a positive, helpful part of their rainy day. By the end of it all, the events had felt as great as the team-building exercises in New Mexico. Make a Difference Day, in all of its national service glory, reminded me of what it means to serve a community without agenda. I hope to have many more rainy days like it.
Brittany Walsh and Henry Colangelo
Team DC