HIV/AIDS Organization Spotlight: Southern Tier AIDS Program of New York
August 8, 2011
In TheBody.com's HIV/AIDS Organization Spotlight series, we focus on some of the true unsung heroes of the HIV community: the organizations that support and provide services for individuals living with, or at risk for, HIV. We profile some of the best in the U.S. and learn how they got started, what challenges they face and what's in store for them in the future.
This week, we turn our sights on New York state and the Southern Tier AIDS Program (STAP). According to the New York State Department of Health, in the eight counties that STAP serves, 947 people were officially living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2008, and diagnoses were up 3 percent over the year before. If you take into account the lack of HIV awareness and the difficulties of accurately measuring HIV rates in rural communities, then the actual number of people living with HIV in the region is likely to be much higher. Which is why an organization such as STAP, which provides comprehensive client and prevention education services, is so sorely needed. Today, after 27 years of dedicated service, STAP continues to grow, while providing HIV care and raising HIV awareness.
TheBody.com recently interviewed Jackie Centerwall, the director of operations at STAP.
Can you tell me a little bit about how STAP got started and what your mission is today?
Twenty-six years ago a dedicated group of volunteers banded together to form a task force that would become the Southern Tier AIDS Program. Founded in 1984 as a local response to the HIV epidemic, Southern Tier AIDS Program provides effective and innovative HIV and hepatitis C prevention education and outreach services to individuals and communities, as well as comprehensive and care services to people living with HIV/AIDS. All of our services are free and confidential. We serve eight counties from nine office locations in the southern tier of New York.
Also, STAP provides supportive services to HIV-positive persons and state-of-the-art prevention education. We work to create a world where HIV transmission is rare and those who are HIV positive lead healthy lives. We cultivate individual and community strengths to improve the public health.
Our services focus on the health and well-being of HIV-positive persons; people in poverty; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons; youth; formerly incarcerated persons; communities of color; and substance users. All services incorporate a harm reduction perspective and recognize that behavior change is a gradual process.
What are the specific services and programs you offer?
Prevention education, case management, two needle exchange programs, housing assistance, treatment adherence/medical advocacy, financial assistance, transportation, an annual three-day spiritual retreat for HIV-positive individuals and an LGBT youth community center.
What is the biggest challenge that STAP faces?
The belief that upstate New York does not have an HIV problem. The unique challenges of living with HIV in a rural environment. The continuing piecemeal destruction of the HIV service infrastructure that was built up so carefully over the last quarter of a century, with its ultimate goal that those with HIV be treated as shabbily as people with other chronic diseases.
What is the most rewarding aspect of working at STAP?
Seeing a person who was struggling with HIV or substance use or housing concerns resolve those concerns, begin to feel better and walk into the office with a smile on his/her face. We also love it when the folks we work for become well enough to volunteer and make STAP work even better.
What advice would you give to somebody living with HIV who has never been to an HIV organization before?
Find a person within the organization who will listen to you and respect you by working with you on the things you want to work on. The agenda needs to be yours, not anybody else's. If you don't meet that person the first time in, ask for somebody else.
What direction is the organization moving toward?
STAP is diversifying its services, by moving into re-entry services and opening an LGBT youth center. We will continue to build upon our areas of expertise to expand our programs and fill service niches in the community that other organizations are unable or unwilling to.
How can people help or get involved?
Call our volunteer coordinator Candace Phelan at 607.798.1706 and let us know where your skills lie. I promise that we will find a way to lovingly exploit them. Volunteers play a huge role in the work we do. Without volunteers we could never reach the number of people we do or put on the fabulous events we do.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Warren Tong is the research editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Copyright © 2011 The HealthCentral Network, Inc. All rights reserved.
This article was provided by TheBody.com.
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