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Reaching Out!

Supporting an AWEsome Group!

November/December 2004

Sheryl Johnson
When we think of people who are living with HIV or AIDS, more likely than not, we are thinking of a full-grown individual. Recently, I received some information about a new support group for adolescents that I'd like to share with my readers. This group is the brainchild of one of AIDS Survival Project's longtime volunteers, Ms. Eva Hanson. In previous columns, I have given Eva full credit for getting me into this line of work. She was my group facilitator at the first Women's Healing Retreat that I attended and the person who helped me understand in no uncertain terms that it would be my responsibility to go out and live life to its fullest capacity. Eva continues to take an active role in HIV/AIDS activism and below is information that she has written about her latest effort.

"Each year, half of the 40,000 HIV infections in the U.S. occur in people under the age of 25. Because of the delay between infection and diagnosis, many of those diagnosed with AIDS in their late twenties or early thirties were infected as teens or young adults.

"Just as important, tens of thousands of adolescents and young adults across the country are the sibling, the son or daughter, the niece or nephew, the grandchild or the friend of a person who is HIV positive. AIDS is a powerful presence in the lives of America's young people, but as a society, we have not yet figured out how to recognize and respond to that reality. Despite the pervasiveness of HIV in the lives of America's youth, few teenagers or young adults -- neither those who are infected nor those who have been affected by the disease in the lives of those they love -- have access to information or emotional support.

"AWE: Adolescence, Wisdom & Education is a new program for Atlanta's young people. Our mission statement is: AWE is an open instructional support group dedicated to the empowerment of young people and the elimination of the AIDS epidemic. AWE offers young people ages 13 to 21 the chance to learn, to form friendships and to become leaders. Through positive workshops, activities and education, AWE helps young people find the courage to live their lives with dignity, be of service to others and thrive.

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Eva Hanson has started an open instructional support group for young people, ages 13 to 21.
Eva Hanson has started an open instructional support group for young people, ages 13 to 21.
"Young people are responsible for the birth of this project. For the past two years, I have been a frequent volunteer presenter on HIV/AIDS at local high schools. One young woman came up to me not long ago, after I had concluded a presentation, and told me that she was afraid to plan to go to her prom because she was HIV positive. Another young man told me of his fear and loneliness having a parent with AIDS, and not wanting his friends to know. Yet another was struggling with a desire to be more supportive to a friend who had recently been diagnosed, but did not know where to start. When you hear these stories, and see these beautiful faces in such pain and bewilderment, you have to act.

"Through AWE, young people will have a chance to develop trusting relationships with peers and with adults who are trained youth leaders. They will participate in facilitated support groups, explore the art, culture, history and neighborhoods of Atlanta as a group, and gain access to literature and networks for information on a wide range of issues. Youth leadership is a key value of the project: as participants develop confidence, they will assume greater responsibilities for planning and leading the project.

"Fortunately, a skilled and diverse team of volunteers has stepped up to launch this project. For years, Ms. Margie Huwig coordinated the circulation of the AIDS quilt throughout Atlanta; she has spent most of the past two decades fighting HIV/AIDS as a parent, volunteer and advocate. Mr. Paul Singh works as a volunteer and has been active with AID Atlanta for a number of years. And I am a former schoolteacher and current trainer and lecturer who has been HIV positive for 22 years. All are volunteers affiliated with AIDS Survival Project, a generous sponsor and fiscal agent for the project."

We applaud Eva and her team for getting this project off the ground. Over the past six months, they have developed a curriculum, planned program activities and recruited agencies and schools to assist with outreach. There are more than one dozen young people who have expressed interest in participating. They have also identified colleagues who are medical and health professionals who will make themselves available for referral as well as information services. Eva is now making an appeal for gifts of any amount to help purchase paper for flyers and stationery, computer ink cartridges, postage for mailings and tokens for transportation. Since this is a volunteer effort, all gifts will go directly to the delivery of services and the organization of this vital work. Checks can be made out to AIDS Survival Project, with AWE in the memo line. We are all aware that funding for HIV/AIDS work has become increasingly difficult to generate. Your help will make a brighter day for a young person and take us all one step closer to the end of the epidemic. Thank you!



  
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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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