Saturday, October 31, 2009

Make a Difference Weekend

Make a Difference Day has been observed on the 4th Saturday of October since 1992. It is a national service day, created to encourage people to spend the day volunteering in their communities.

As AmeriCorps members committed to full-time community service, we want every day to be a “make a difference” day! The 4th weekend of October happened to be a weekend when two major events to benefit the HIV+ community of Indianapolis were taking place. So Team Indy decided to celebrate Make a Difference WEEKEND, offering service at both the Grande Masquerade benefit for the Damien Center on Saturday, and the AIDS Quilt Memorial service on Sunday.

The Grande Masquerade is an annual event held by the Damien Center, which is the largest organization serving HIV/AIDS infected and affected persons in Indianapolis and is the service agency where 2 of our members are placed. Over 600 guests were expected, each paying $135-175 for their ticket. A silent auction is held, as well as a costume contest, and of course food, drinks, and dancing. We had our work cut out for us!

The team met up at the downtown Marriott bright and early Saturday morning, where we were joined by an eager group of staff and volunteers all psyched to set up for this event. It’s so exciting how many people are willing to give their time to an event like this just because they CARE so much! We had fun setting up decorations, matching auction items with bidding sheets, and getting everything ready for the big event.

Hard at work!

Around 3pm, we broke to go home and get dressed up. We re-convened at the Marriott a few hours later, having changed out of our AmeriCorps gear and into our finest formal-wear!

All dressed up.

After a wonderful time Saturday night, the team pressed on for another day of service on Sunday. We met up Sunday morning at the Indiana AIDS Fund building to haul out the memorial quilts and transport them to the Crown Hill Cemetary. The weather was beautiful, which we were thrilled about. We set up the quilts for display on the cemetary grounds. We carefully laid each quilt upon a tarp, reflecting as we did this on the lives of those memorialized on the quilts. The rest of the day was spent directing traffic, offering information and support to those attending the event, and cleaning up afterward.The team then took some photos of ourselves enjoying the beautiful fall day.

Setting up the memorial quilts.

The team stands together at Crown Hill Cemetery, atop the highest point in Indianapolis with our city skyline behind us.

Playing in the leaves!

We had a wonderful time making a difference this weekend, and are excited to continue making a difference every day by serving others and inspiring others to serve too.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Indianapolis AIDS Walk took place on Saturday October 10th.  Team Indy (minus Oliver :( who was sick) was up before the sun setting up tents, blowing up balloons, testing the bounce house, and making sure the park looked spectacular for the Health Fair.  

We had a great day of team bonding and doing whatever we could to make the day a success!  Tons of people came out for the event and participated in the 5k walk.  One of our many roles for the day was to watch over the four panels of the Names Quilt that were on display.  Many of the former Indianapolis Americorps volunteers showed up and almost all of our host agencies participated in the Health Fair!  It was a wonderful day and the walk raised over $150,000 for the Gregory R. Powers Direct Emergency Financial Assistance Fund.  We wrapped up our 12 hour day at the Indianapolis Expo where we played around with giant parade floats and decorations.  Here is a picture of our team in a giant red high heel! 

On October 15, Team Indianapolis celebrated National Latino HIV Testing Day by attending Casa Mateo's Health Fair. We partnered with Planned Parenthood and passed out information in both Spanish and English.  When we had down time, we put together some bilingual safer sex kits and discussed ideas for our long term project.  The event had a nice crowd, and it felt good to be a part of the community! 

Team Indy!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

youth outreach in Indianapolis

Hello, world! My name is Oliver Danni Green and I'm a member of Team Indianapolis. My service placement is at the Damien Center, the largest HIV/AIDS service agency in Indiana. My job as Prevention Outreach Coordinator gives me the freedom to partner with allied community organizations and offer prevention services to them. Since I’m always excited about finding creative ways to offer services, this is great for me because each organization has different needs and I get to work with them to figure out how I can serve them best, rather than taking a cookie-cutter approach and trying to do the exact same thing for everybody.

One of the organizations I have begun partnering with is the Indiana Youth Group. This organization has been around since 1987, providing services and a safe space for youth of all sexual orientations and gender identities. IYG has been stepping up their efforts to provide HIV and STD prevention information to the youth they serve, and they are doing an excellent job of it! I’ve been so impressed by how much information the youth at IYG already know, and unfortunately they are not learning it in their schools – when I ask them where they learned about this, they always tell me they learned it at IYG and that nobody is talking to them about it in school.

Recently, IYG held a benefit concert featuring the Athens Boys Choir – a one-transman hip-hop/spoken-word artist named Katz from Athens, GA – and an open mike for the IYG youth. Katz is one of my favorite performers, and he did a wonderful job of making the show about celebrating the youth and the work of IYG. Everyone involved with this event was just incredible – the youth who performed, the staff who put the event together, the folks who donated space for the event, and the community members who came out to support the benefit.

This was exciting for me because it was my first opportunity to do outreach at a community event as a representative of AmeriCorps and the Damien Center! I brought a big rolly-bucket of condom kits, lube, dental dams, female condoms, awareness pendants, and lots of pamphlets. They gave me a table to sit at with all the supplies, and when people came to my table I would offer them free stuff and answer any questions they had. I got to talk with lots of youth that night and, interestingly enough, the most frequent response to my presence was something like “Thank you so much for being here; it’s really great what you’re doing...but, personally, I’ve chosen not to have sex yet, I’m not ready.” These are youth who, because of their involvement at IYG, have learned enough accurate information about sexual activity to make the decision to postpone it without judgment. Of those who did help themselves to the free supplies, the most popular item was the dental dams – and, knowing that oral sex is the activity people are most likely to engage in without protection since it’s perceived as a lower risk, I’m always THRILLED to see people so excited about supplies specifically for the purpose of safer oral sex!

Overall, it was a great experience. I look forward to many more opportunities to serve with the Indiana Youth Group and to work with other organizations to offer this kind of prevention outreach in ways that best support the populations they serve!

Friday, October 2, 2009

On behalf of a fellow member...

"As an AmeriCorps service member who receives a living stipend for the work I do at my agency, I am always blown away by the abundant generosity of the many people who volunteer their time at our agency without being paid a cent. One in particular really touched me today and I wanted to share this experience while preserving the confidentiality of those mentioned, so I have asked Maggie to post this story so that it will not be traceable to the agency I work at.

I had a stressful day at work yesterday, as surely most AmeriCorps members have experienced. I was pretty upset by an interaction I had with someone and I really didn't want to go back in today. But as soon as I walked in the office, I was greeted with a huge smile by one of our regular volunteers. She told me how glad she was to see me today and I could tell that she really meant it. I smiled back and told her I was really glad to see her too, and after talking with her for a few minutes I knew today was going to be MUCH better than yesterday.

People volunteer at our agency for all different reasons. Many of our volunteers are HIV-positive or have family members who are positive.
This particular volunteer has an adult son who is HIV-positive. What makes this person's story so powerful for me is that her son also volunteers at our agency, and he speaks very openly about the risk behaviors he used to engage in (commercial sex work and IV drug use).
Unlike many parents who reject their kids when they contract HIV, or when they find out about the behaviors their child has engaged in regardless of whether those activities led to HIV infection, this woman told her son that she loves him no matter what. He has long since quit working the streets and using drugs, and she has stuck by him all through his recovery. The two of them volunteer several days a week each at our agency, and the work they do is in areas that truly have the greatest impact on the ability of the center to function -- we simply could not run this show without them. Every time I see them I am filled with hope.

You don't have to be a superhero or a saint to make a difference in someone's life. The people in this field who are making a difference are the ones who bring their hearts with them. It's the people who show up and "love no matter what" who are transforming the world we live in. It's the people who take a few minutes out of their day to let someone know how glad they are to see them, even without knowing what a difference those few words have made in the heart of a person who was afraid today would be an awful one. Yesterday I left work feeling like nothing I did would ever really make a difference. Today I knew as soon as I came in that I really AM making a difference, just by showing up...and it felt so good to be able to share that feeling with someone whose service I admire so profoundly!"

--2009-2010 National AIDS Fund AmeriCorps member