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Reaching Out!

The Evolution of Community Outreach at ASP

September/October 2003

Sheryl Johnson

This year, AIDS Survival Project is celebrating 15 years of successful Advocacy, Self-Empowerment and Partnership efforts. Perhaps the word "celebrating" might be an odd choice of words in light of the devastating effects of the AIDS crisis. But as I familiarize myself with the remarkable accomplishments of this small, grassroots organization, I want to share some of the historical background as it relates to community outreach and tie in another organization that began in the same year and has also demonstrated unparalleled success. Many thanks to my colleague Rob Nixon for compiling information from our staff, friends and archives and producing a compelling visual perspective of where we've come from and how we arrived where we are today. [Note: Rob's 15-year retrospective will appear next issue. -- Editor.]

AIDS Survival Project's outreach efforts were initiated in 1988, the year of its inception, when it conducted the first of many teach-ins in order to educate persons with AIDS on their basic rights as well as treatment information. The following year, ASP held its first strategic session to plan programs and activities on education, public awareness, setting partnership goals with healthcare and social service providers and identifying social and recreational opportunities. In 1990, the first monthly newsletter was published, eventually becoming Survival News! Our premiere publication continues to post vital treatment information on the Web and ultimately reaches more than 41,000 readers per month!

Community outreach often involves bringing people through the organization in order to provide services, and in 1991, ASP initiated peer counseling training and held its first support groups. Understanding that people living with HIV and AIDS need social outlets, a Saturday night activity called "PWArties" was started as well as the intensive, interactive, educational workshop that has evolved into the bimonthly program known today as THRIVE! Weekend. In the course of the same year, the Treatment Resource Center was established. This library resource has developed into one of the leading sources for information on HIV and AIDS in the country and the largest in the Southeast region.

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There have been a number of other "firsts" in AIDS Survival Project's history that illustrate the importance of reaching out to the community. In 1995, ASP sponsored its first Legislative Awareness, or Lobby Day. This annual activity trains members of the community to spend the day at the Capitol, approaching elected officials on specific issues of importance. (Last fall, I participated in my first Lobby Day experience and found it exhilarating, to say the least. Not only was I able to confidently approach elected officials, but I was also able to speak concisely and intelligently about the impact of funding cuts on people living with AIDS and HIV.) Also in 1995, ASP began to actively participate in the Martin Luther King Day Parade, stressing the importance of gaining human rights for all people. The following year, ASP sponsored Brothers Back to Back, a support group for gay HIV-positive African-American men, and the first annual candlelight vigil was held at the Pride celebration.

In 1997, ASP started the annual Women's Healing Retreat. This continues to be a wonderful activity for women living with HIV that offers a full day of information, education, pampering, food and fellowship held in a safe and comfortable environment. By 1998, it was apparent that the face of HIV/AIDS statistics was changing to include more minorities; thus, the Community Outreach Program was established, targeting underserved populations, including women and communities of color. In an effort to impact rising statistics, a minority Peer Counseling program was initiated, and ASP entered into a partnership with the Positive Impact organization, developing programs for the Latino community.

In recent years, AIDS Survival Project continued to break new ground, hosting the first local program focusing on issues unique to children living with HIV and starting the Healthy Choices = Healthy Lives community forums on available services and resources in the metro Atlanta area. The Center for AIDS and Humanities was launched as a teaching museum and exhibit space. The first exhibit was entitled From the Beginning: African-American Heroes and the AIDS Epidemic in Atlanta. One of the persons who figured prominently in the exhibit was Faye Brown-Sperling, the founder of Our Common Welfare, who passed away recently and left the Atlanta community as an icon in the HIV/AIDS and substance abuse fields, and who can never be replaced.


Our Common Welfare

In 1988, Faye started Our Common Welfare (OCW) in her living room after determining that there were no services in the community targeted to African-Americans with HIV/AIDS who were also at risk for substance abuse. Today, OCW services clients that are 90% African-American, 80% male, 20% female and 40% gay/bisexual/transgendered men. The mission of Our Common Welfare is "to provide quality education and supportive services to persons who have or are at risk for HIV and/or substance abuse, their families, significant others and the community at large; and to empower each individual to lead healthy, productive lifestyles with dignity and respect." Although Faye was small in physical stature, she was a giant in terms of her vision and accomplishments, and while I am unable to expound on the history of OCW from a personal perspective, I can certainly share details of the programs and services that are offered.

Drug treatment at OCW was developed and implemented in 1994. In 1999, OCW became the first licensed, specialized drug treatment facility for persons with HIV/AIDS in Georgia. The Substance Abuse Day Program (SADP) offers a forty-five day intensive outpatient program delivering a full drug treatment curriculum supported by HIV/AIDS education and prevention services. Individual and group counseling sessions are conducted by certified addiction counselors on spirituality, goal setting, addiction education, HIV education and risk reduction, recovery foundation, life skills/self-esteem and pharmacology. The Continuing Care Program (CCP) operates weekly for clients that have completed the SADP and require continued support in recovery. Project Synergy is designed to provide quality drug treatment services education and supportive services to socially displaced men. Forty-five days of intensive, outpatient drug treatment services is offered to adult men who are recently released from jail or prison or who are in imminent danger of parole or probation violation. Synergy offers treatment and case management and has curricula that include criminality and anger management.

OCW offers free, noninvasive HIV antibody testing in five locations in the Atlanta area. As the 2001 National Life Award Recipient, this organization tested more than 1, 900 persons, of which 87% received results! For those persons testing positive who are unsure of how or whether to inform a sex or needle-sharing partner, there is the Partner and Significant Other Notification and Education Program (PSONE). PSONE is available to HIV-positive persons to become educated and notify sex or needle-sharing partners or family and friends about their HIV-positive status. PSONE offers individual and group sessions. OCW also offers a course called Education, Support and Prevention (ESP) that is designed to provide a safe environment to explore the sensitive issues that inhibit behavior change. ESP supports the drug treatment message and provides an introduction to the foundation steps of twelve-step programs. In addition, there are support groups that are gender and sexual orientation-specific that are offered to persons with HIV/AIDS. These anonymous groups provide a safe, nondiscriminatory atmosphere in which participants can explore feelings and concerns regarding their dual diagnosis.

Finally, short and long-term transitional housing for substance abusers with HIV is available in DeKalb and Fulton counties. Housing &Support Programs (HSP) accommodate persons who are homeless and have low or no income. The goal for HSP is independent living, assisting residents in achieving positions of productivity and usefulness in society. Emergency utility assistance is also available to persons living with HIV/AIDS. An application and proof of need is required. Our Common Welfare is located at 4319 Memorial Drive, Suite N, Decatur GA 30332. For further information about their programs and services, call (404) 297-9588 or go to the Web site at www.OurCommonWelfare.com.



  
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This article was provided by AIDS Survival Project. It is a part of the publication Survival News.
 
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