June 10, 2011
Three years of services lauded on Wednesday evening. Credits: startatwestminster.org.
An intimate group of friends and supporters gathered together in the sanctuary of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Southwest Wednesday evening to celebrate the START program. START (Syringe, Treatment, Advocacy, Resources and Training) is a harm reduction initiative that works to reduce HIV and Hepatitis infection in the city through needle exchange, counseling, referral services and condom distribution. It began as just a brainstorm from a small group of comrades talking around a kitchen table. Now it has bloomed into a full service program that has helped hundreds of citizens in the city get help and protection from HIV and Hepatitis A, B, and C. The reception was a reflection on START's achievements as well as a charge to the community at large.
START supporters ruminated over the services that the program provides to the community daily. Speakers such as council members Tommy Wells and Michael Brown and Executive Director George Kerr all stressed the importance of START's existence especially at a time when needle exchange programs in DC are in jeopardy. Supporters say that prevention as well as treatment need to be equal in order to stop the epidemic. "We always put the money on the treatment side. We need to put the money on the prevention side," stated council member Brown.
The START program is based at Westminster Presbyterian Church. Community members say that having a program that focuses on HIV prevention based at a church is a sign of growth and success for the AIDS community. Alex Lawson explained that START is successful because it is community based. "START represents everything that is best about our community. It's an embodiment of our community." The reception also honored Teefari Mallory, staff member, and Ron Daniels, founding member. Their steadfast work is a large part of what makes the program so successful. Mallory and Daniels are on the frontlines for START doing services and making referrals. Geno Dunnington, founding member, said that the program works because of the workers who believe in service. "Our passion is really about the people."
For more information about START or to make a donation, click here.