ASC Executive Director Sharen I. Duke and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg meet and greet at the annual World AIDS Day breakfast at Gracie Mansion.
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"Stop AIDS: Keep the Promise." This provocative phrase—the rallying cry for World AIDS Day 2005—serves as a reminder of the many promises kept and broken throughout the quarter century that the HIV/AIDS pandemic has been with us.
Today, 38 million adults and 2.3 million children are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. In 2005 alone, some 4.9 million people became infected with HIV and more than 3 million people died of the disease across the globe.
On December 1, AIDS Service Center NYC joined with thousands of its sister organizations throughout the world to reflect on this staggering reality and renew our vow to "keep the promise" by vigorously promoting HIV/AIDS prevention and providing life-saving assistance to those living with the virus.
"World AIDS Day is an important annual event, even for an organization like ASC that focuses on HIV/AIDS each and every day," observes Co-director of Prevention Services Ramona Cummings. "It's the one day a year that the impact of HIV/AIDS is universally recognized. On this particular day, we make a conscious decision to acknowledge the people we have lost and say in one voice that the AIDS epidemic is far from over."
ASC's World AIDS Day event began with informational workshops in English and Spanish describing governmental funding trends and their impact on HIV services. Participants brainstormed ways to become personally involved in fighting the epidemic—from embracing risk reduction and getting tested to learn their HIV status to reaching their social networks and educating their elected representatives about the importance of HIV/AIDS funding.
Participants viewed the ASC "Quilt of Promise"—a visual arts project comprised of quilted panels created by ASC clients and Peers. Contributors to the quilt spoke eloquently about the inspiration for their panels. Some panels memorialized loved ones, while others focused on promoting prevention, education, and compassion.
After exploring the concept of "keeping the promise," participants took turns identifying a personal promise in connection with World AIDS Day. "I promise to educate my community," said one individual. Another participant vowed, "I promise not to be a victim— not to allow my secret to keep me sick." A third participant made the promise to not allow HIV to get in the way of living a full, productive life—a sentiment echoed by many of the attendees.
The day's final event was an ASC Poet's Café marking the release of the eighth issue of Situations, the literary magazine of the ASC Creative Writing Workshop. Eleven Situations contributors read their poems to a packed house of well over 50 ASC clients, Peer Educators, staff members, supporters, and friends. The reading included poems on the theme of "promises" written in honor of World AIDS Day. This inspiring event provided a fitting ending to ASC's World AIDS Day 2005, with the voices of men and women whose lives have been forever changed by HIV/AIDS telling their stories and speaking their truths.
For the fourth year in a row, Barnes & Noble Booksellers Union Square has selected AIDS Service Center NYC as the only not-for-profit organization to participate in the store's annual celebration of National Poetry Month. Featuring readings by the members of ASC's weekly Creative Writing Workshop, "ASC Voices" will take place on Tuesday, April 25, 2006, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Barnes & Noble Union Square, 33 East 17th Street, 4th Floor. The event is free and open to the public, and copies of Situations will be distributed free of charge.
During the PREP graduation ceremony, a new PREP graduate speaks from her heart about the program's impact on her life.
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"I am a veteran. I served my country. But now I'm fighting a new battle called AIDS. It is a life-long battle and I am ready to fight."
"If I could save just one person from HIV/AIDS, I'd make my mark in life. ASC has given me the tools, the education, and the confidence to do it."
One after another, each of the 17 graduates from ASC's Peer Recovery Education Program (PREP) spoke eloquently about the program's effect on their lives. The scene was the winter 2005 PREP graduation ceremony, held at ASC's offices on November 17—the twenty-fifth such ceremony since ASC first founded this pioneering program in 1991.
PREP is an intensive, 10-week training for men and women who are affected by HIV/AIDS and in recovery from drug or alcohol use. Participants learn how to educate at-risk communities with culturally relevant information on HIV risk reduction and health promotion. PREP is the centerpiece of ASC's comprehensive capacity-building peer training program.
"Peer-based interventions are among the most effective tools we have for fighting the epidemics of substance abuse and HIV/AIDS," explains ASC Executive Director/CEO Sharen I. Duke. "That's why peer training, education, and support have been at the forefront of ASC's activities for nearly 15 years. What is so impressive about peer-based services is that they funnel vital information into at-risk communities while supporting the Peers' own efforts to stay off drugs, reduce HIV transmission, and live healthy, fulfilling lives. Peer services offer an elegant, efficient design that provides immense benefits to all concerned."
After completing the PREP core training, participants come on board as ASC Peer Interns, assisting with community outreach, educational presentations, translation, and many other activities. Throughout the internship, participants meet regularly with their Staff Mentor—an ASC staffer assigned to monitor their progress, supervise their performance, and help them fulfill their personal and professional goals along the way.
ASC annually trains 150 Peers and supports 40 Peer Educators with stipended internships, job readiness training, and other services. Over the years, dozens of PREP graduates have returned to school, left welfare, and re-entered the workforce. Twenty-two ASC Peer Educators have gone on to become full-time employees at ASC thus far. In fact, fully one-fifth of ASC's full-time staff is comprised of former ASC clients or Peer Educators who have moved up the ranks to become agency employees—a testament to the program's success.
"PREP can be said to have an enormous ripple effect in many different ways," observes Sharen Duke. "The Peers benefit by getting support with their recovery and skills that help them move forward with their lives. At the same time, these Peers function as community role models who help to ‘normalize' prevention, promote HIV testing, and link people with care. The Peers exponentially increase ASC's ability to reach and serve populations at risk. At any given time, ASC's Peer Educators provide services equal to that provided by 15 full-time staff. This saves ASC nearly half a million dollars each year, allowing us to direct our limited resources where they are needed most."
"But the truth about PREP," adds Duke, "goes way beyond dollars and measurable outcomes. At the recent PREP graduation, one graduate stood up and said, ‘I've had a few setbacks, but this is the start of my new life.' Knowing ASC had nurtured a new beginning and a sense of hope—to me, that was priceless."
"I first came to ASC as a participant in the Peer Recovery Education Program (PREP). That was in 1996; I had two years clean and I was tired of having nothing to do and watching soap operas every day. After graduating from PREP, I started volunteering at ASC. Volunteering was not in my vocabulary or thought pattern, but I started volunteering anyway because it gave me a sense of purpose. In the long run, volunteering at ASC made me believe that I could do other things with my life besides sit home. It opened up a new world.
"At first, I did outreach and presentations at drug treatment programs and Parent-Teachers Associations in East Harlem. Soon I found myself being at ASC twenty or thirty hours a week. I said to myself, ‘If I can be here thirty hours a week, I can probably work.' So I asked ASC staff to help me put together my resume and in late 1997 I started looking for a job. I interviewed at numerous places and I got practice interviewing, which was good since I hadn't worked since the 1980s.
"Then, in December of 1997, an opening for Outreach Specialist became available at ASC. I interviewed and was offered the job. The challenge for me was that all of a sudden I'd be supervising the same people who just yesterday had been my peers. But I took the job and out of that experience I learned a lot of lessons, including how to step to the next level and how to work with people.
"Over the years, I've moved up through the agency, first as an Outreach Specialist for the Women's Initiative, then as Health Educator. In 2004, I was promoted to Training Coordinator and in 2005 I was promoted again to my current position as Program Manager of Peer Services. My responsibilities include overseeing two of ASC's CDC-funded HIV prevention programs, ‘Safety Counts' and ‘Healthy Relationships.'
"Part of my job is being a Staff Mentor to Peers who have graduated from PREP and are volunteering at ASC. When I meet with a Peer, we work on that person's Peer Development Plan. I help them identify their goals and work with them to see what steps can be taken to reach those goals.
"PREP is a good program. It does a lot of things to help people learn about their disease and gain self-confidence. For some people, PREP is a path back to work. For others who are just too sick to go back to work, this is something they can do. I have a good track record—a lot of the Peers I've mentored have gone back to work or back to school. They really get something out of being in PREP. That's what it's there for—to build people's determination to do something else with their lives and to help them believe in themselves."
The spirit of giving was alive and well at ASC's annual Holiday Celebration. Here, two of our many guests delight in the colorful winter gloves they received as gifts from ASC through the generosity of our wonderful donors.
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During the holidays, as ASC brought the spirit of caring and good cheer to our clients and their families, we were fortunate to have the support of local schools, corporate groups, not-for-profit organizations, and individuals who extended a helping hand to us throughout the holiday season.
In November, ASC's annual Thanksgiving Dinner-Dance at St. Augustine's Church on the Lower East Side provided a warm and festive feast for nearly 200 men, women, and children, with the generous help of 35 volunteers from Bristol Meyers Squibb, Trinity Community Church and other friends of ASC.
In December, ASC's Holiday Celebration at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan featured live entertainment, delicious food, snapshots with Santa, and a spirit of friendship for the hundreds of individuals and families who braved the winter chill to attend this magnificent annual event.
Our Holiday Celebration sparkled that much more brightly thanks to the many "elves" who donated their time during the busy holiday season to make the gathering a success. Dozens of donated gifts were wrapped and organized ahead of time by volunteers from NYU, American Express, and Fashion Institute High School. Gift donations poured in from many sources, including the Children's Hope Foundation, Angelwish, the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, CBS, New York Cares, Showtime Networks, and the New York Giants. A cadre of gracious volunteers from Cable Positive's New York Chapter and Brooklyn International High School served the holiday meals and helped distribute gifts to ASC's clients and their families during the event.
ASC also had the good fortune of participating in Barnes & Noble Bookseller's "Gift-Wrapping for a Cause" Program. In mid-December, ASC staff and volunteers wrapped gifts for customers at Barnes and Noble's Astor Place store, allowing us to spread the word about ASC's services, while raising nearly $600 in donations.
Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, an even nimbler group of volunteers "danced the night away" to help ASC stock its Food Pantry. On December 16–18, Danspace Project presented its acclaimed "Food for Thought" dance performance series at St. Mark's Church in the Bowery. Audience members were asked to pay an admission fee plus two cans of food, yielding 16 large boxes packed full of canned food for ASC's Pantry. ASC was pleased to be the recipient of this event for the second year in a row. The items collected were disbursed to ASC clients in need throughout the month of January.
The spirit of giving permeates ASC throughout the holidays and all year long. Volunteers greatly expand our capacity to bring hope and help to New Yorkers facing the challenges of HIV/AIDS. We thank our many volunteers for their spirit of giving and for the goodwill they have shown to ASC and the hundreds of men, women, and children we serve.
ASC staffers, our friends from Cable Positive, and representatives from various corporate sponsors celebrate the room naming and display special plaques honoring their commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS.
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On the evening of December 7, Cable Positive's New York Chapter and representatives from ten cable companies joined ASC for a special room dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony at ASC's program offices in Union Square.
Since 2003, Cable Positive's New York Chapter and its members have supported ASC in countless ways—sponsoring fundraisers and clothing drives, volunteering at agency events, and even helping to create and air ASC's first-ever public service announcement.
The time had arrived to show Cable Positive and its sponsors just how much their generous support has meant to ASC and the people we serve.
The evening began with ASC and the New York Chapter co-presenting special awards to a variety of corporate sponsors, including Time Warner Cable of New York and New Jersey, Showtime, HBO, YES Network, FOX Cable, Playboy, OLN, HERE!, SoapNet, and Rainbow Media Holdings. Representatives of these corporations received engraved plaques recognizing their important role in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Next, ASC Executive Director/CEO Sharen I. Duke and Steve Villano, the President of Cable Positive's national organization, surprised the chapter co-chairs with a special awards presentation honoring their personal leadership and dedication to the cause.
The festivities culminated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony, during which ASC officially named one its counseling rooms in honor of Cable Positive's New York Chapter. Sharen Duke unveiled an illuminated glass block that had been permanently inset in the room's outer wall. The block features a handsome etching of the chapter's "Join the Fight!" slogan and organizational logo.
"Naming the counseling room in honor of Cable Positive's New York Chapter is a tangible expression of our sincere appreciation for the chapter's enormous support of ASC," said Duke. "Cable Positive is an important ally, and now everyone who visits ASC will see how much we value their dedication to ASC and to all New Yorkers affected by HIV/AIDS."
Photos: Titus Kana (firstname.lastname@example.org)