Treasure the Children, a program in Royal Palm Beach, Fla., that aims to empower HIV-positive young people and reduce stigma surrounding the disease is at risk because it is losing a large amount of funding, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports. Advertisement
According to the Sun-Sentinel, Treasure the Children runs Charles' Crew, a group of about 30 young people from Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties that speaks to after-school programs, Sunday schools and youth summits across South Florida about living with HIV/AIDS. For four out of five years, Charles' Crew was partially funded by the United Way of Palm Beach County; however, the United Way board in June ended funding for Treasure the Children, citing a shifting focus and less available money. Charlene Bowman, executive director of Treasure the Children, said the program cost about $70,000 annually, of which $50,000 was funded through the Sylvester Consortium -- a set of grants awarded annually by the United Way to groups in Palm Beach working on HIV/AIDS prevention and education. The United Way said that although Charles' Crew is an admirable program, the economic downturn has forced it to focus on large groups that can use grants more efficiently to prevent HIV. Scott Badesch, president of Palm Beach County's United Way, said the executive committee this year wanted to focus on conducting HIV prevention in cooperation with other agencies, such as the county school district, so it can reach as many children as possible. "It's not that Treasure the Children's not a good program," Badesch said, adding, "We're unable to fund very much-needed and good programs."
According to Mary O'Connor, president of the Boys and Girls Club of Palm Beach County, a frequent venue of Charles' Crew, the program's strength is that young people often learn more when they interact with members of their own age group than with adults. O'Connor said, "It's always sad when any kind of funding for really positive programs is cut off." Bowman said the talks acted as open forums, during which teenagers and children could ask blunt questions about living with HIV/AIDS.
Bowman said that she hopes to strengthen and expand the program to counties beyond Palm Beach. "We would like to share our program with other communities, if they could replicate it," Bowman said, adding, "This is an experienced model, and we see the benefits" (Torbati, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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