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."