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May 3, 2010

Three years ago, I found out that a family member had HIV. That was the first time I became aware of HIV/AIDS, and it was a real wake-up call.

I'm 29 years old and living in a shelter with my four kids, twins (a boy and a girl) who are 7 years old, a 4 year old daughter, and a 2 month old son. I used to just sit in my room and cry. The shelter is so difficult. I see women who have been there for years and nothing changes for them. I don't want that for me and my kids.

Then one day I met John from ASC standing in front of the shelter, handing out flyers and talking about AIDS prevention and services. John talked to me, took me to ASC, and introduced me to Vanessa and the HERS program (Honoring Everywoman's Right to Safety).

For seven months now, I've been attending HERS at ASC's Harlem office. The group has really saved me. I was headed into a depression. I wish the group was 5 days a week. The older women in the group who have been where I am now, in a shelter with young children, they tell me on a weekly basis that it's not always going to be this tough. Their encouragement, and the hope I feel from the group, gets me through my day. They motivate me, inspire me, and help me stay focused.

HERS has also been teaching me how to be more independent. Listening to other people's stories in the group really helps me. The HERS counselor reminds me that it can get better if I do my part.

Now my twins are enrolled in school and my 4-year old is in a head-start program. I'm also trying to quit smoking and the ASC HERS staff support me in sticking with it and help me with other healthy goals too.

This past June with the support of my amazing ASC counselor at HERS, I got tested for HIV and I'm negative. It was a very scary experience to get tested and I couldn't have done it without ASC. They really helped me through it.

Another goal of mine is going back to school and getting an education so I can find a good job. However, with four kids it's difficult. I've applied for two positions and I'm waiting to hear back. And hoping.

Photo: David Nager/ASCNYC

May 3, 2010

"We rode in 91-degree heat, through torrential rain, and a tornado."

So says Marty Rosen, ride director for the Empire State AIDS Ride, which raised over $200,000 for AIDS research and services in August. More than 50 courageous New Yorkers participated in the ride, a 560 mile, 7-day bicycle journey from Niagara Falls to New York City.

Despite the rough conditions, "everyone remained safe, healthy and in great spirits," Rosen says. "Neither the recession nor the weather could stop this amazing group from raising more than $200,000 for AIDS research and services and having a blast on and off their bikes."

ASC is the ride's newest beneficiary. "We're proud to support the important services that ASC provides," Rosen says. " I've visited many times, and am always impressed by how many clients with HIV/AIDS have overcome poverty and drug abuse and gone on to help others through ASC's peer recovery education program."

Thank you to everyone involved with the Empire State AIDS Ride. ASC looks forward to working together on next year's ride!

July 27, 2009

ASC and the Nelson Mandela Foundation collaborated this summer on Mandela Day, which celebrates the idea that each individual has the power to transform the world, the ability to make an imprint. Watch the video about ASC featured on the Mandela Day website.

June 5, 2009

Senate Health Committee Chair Thomas K. Duane (D WFP, Manhattan)

With National HIV Testing Day approaching on June 27, consider this:

One in ten HIV+ women live in New York City. The Big Apple has three times the national average of people living with HIV/AIDS. And our city houses more AIDS cases than Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, and Washington DCcombined.

The bottom line is clear: The time to expand HIV testing and services is now.

With that in mind, ASC and other AIDS service organizations in New York have endorsed HIV testing legislation that will expand HIV testing, making it easier and more routine (links to ASC press release). "Far too many individuals learn of their HIV status concurrently with an AIDS diagnosis, and far too many persons are HIV infected and not aware of their status," said Sharen Duke, CEO of AIDS Service Center NYC.

"I am pleased that ASC is among the many diverse organizations working directly with New Yorkers infected with and affected by HIV, who recognize that this bill takes the best approach to increase testing, ensure early treatment for those who are HIV-positive and prevent new infections at this moment in the evolving epidemic," says Senator Thomas K. Duane, Health Committee Chair, and co-sponsor of the bill with Assemblyman Dick Gottfried.

National HIV Testing Day reminds us there's a long way to go to stop the epidemic. AIDS service agencies like ASC use multiple strategies to improve the care and treatment of people living with HIV and AIDS. ASC provides confidential rapid HIV testing, distributes free condoms, helps people with housing, and connects people to medical, mental health and drug treatment services.

Another of ASC's efforts to increase awareness and promote testing is our June 25 th fundraiser, Safer Sex in the City. This high-energy event promotes safer sex and well-being in the age of AIDS; Vivid Girl Savannah Samson is a co-host. "In my industry, everyone is comfortable saying that they've been tested. Unfortunately, in the rest of the world, this is something that still makes people uncomfortable," she says.

Other celebrities, including Cynthia Nixon, Pamela Anderson, Joy Behar, Margaret Cho, Flotilla DeBarge, Linda Eder, Ellie Krieger, Robert LaFosse, & Gloria Ruben have joined forces with ASC to bring the message of HIV prevention, testing, and treatment to all New Yorkers in need.

Photo: David Nager/ASCNYC

June 5, 2009

Dario : We met in 1996. I was visiting my stepbrother. Monique was the head of the household where he lived.

Monique : We became friends, then we became lovers.

D : We've helped each other through some tough times.

M : We've bugged out together. Good times, bad times.

D : Arguments, too.

M : But we're here now, together. He's 31 now. I'm 43.

D : I first got tested for HIV when I joined Daytop Village for drug treatment. It was mandatory to get tested. When I got the results, I was shocked. My t-cells were 7. My jaw hit the floor. I had tears in my eyes. I wasn't aware of all the risks I had been taking.

Daytop asked if I had any significant others I wanted to inform. I told them about Monique, so they arranged a meeting where I would tell her. So we did it. I had very strong feelings when I was looking into her eyes telling her.

M : I was shocked. I didn't understand. We'd been such tight friends for so long. I wanted to know how he got it, what was happening outside our relationship. But I knew he needed support. That was the most important thing. And I was going to give it to him.

D : What's scary is that if I hadn't been required to get tested at Daytop, I wouldn't have gotten tested.

M : Now, we just take it day by day.

D : After I found out, I didn't take care of myself. It wasn't clicking.

M : He'd been in and out of the hospital. He barely weighed 90 pounds.

D : A Columbia Presbyterian doctor referred me to ASC for case management. My ASC caseworker, Millie, came to the hospital. That meant a lot to us.

M : ASC is like our family.

D : We get tested together about every six months. We do it as a couple, the same way we do everything as a couple.

M : For other couples where one partner's positive and the other is negative, I'd tell them, If you love the person and have been with them, just keep talking through the emotions and expressions. Get all the feelings out.

D : There's where depression comes from, when you can't express your feelings.

M : Tell the person you love them and will be there no matter what else is happening in your life.

D : There are so many what-ifs in a relationship even when you don't have to deal with this. There are so many doubts.

M : You think about, "Am I getting it?" You just have to put your cards on the table. If that's what you're thinking, you've got to get it out there somehow.

D : It's been almost 14 years for us. Sometimes I wonder how we've done it. I've grown so much from being with her.

M : I just deal with it. My mother died of cancer. My father died of natural causes. I dealt with that too. God is with us. You never what what's going to happen. You just have to take it straight ahead.

D : I don't know how she's been so strong.

M : My strength comes from you.

Photo: David Nager/ASCNYC

June 5, 2009

Diane Williams, Trainer, on Black Awareness Day

It's one thing to read about ASC's clients; it's another thing to see them. For the first time, you can now meet them at ASC's web photo gallery. In their faces, you'll see the strength, determination, and hope that inspires us all.

Nine out of ten ASC clients live in poverty. Many are homeless. All are affected by AIDS. ASC consistently delivers HIV prevention and care to New Yorkers in need. Check out the photo gallery and see the transformations come to life. ASC is proud of our efforts to make a difference, make life better, and ensure that New Yorkers have access to HIV testing and medical care.

Photo: David Nager/ASCNYC

June 5, 2009

Healthy Relationships Intervention Institute [Organizers]

Healthy Relationships brings HIV-positive people together in highly interactive small groups and helps them develop coping skills to reduce stress in their lives, negotiate choices, and deal with HIV disclosure.

Last month, ASC hosted the 2009 Healthy Relationships Intervention Institute, a regional summit sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Twenty AIDS service organizations from across New York State gathered to share best practices and hone the skills of training facilitators to support the implementation, evaluation, and sustainability of the Healthy Relationships program.

"Over the past 4 years, I've witnessed how the Healthy Relationships intervention has helped clients develop important skills for disclosing their HIV status to family members, friends, and sex partners," says Guy Williams, ASC Training Coordinator. "The Institute helped to reinforce the core elements of the intervention for program facilitators. It gave them the opportunity to receive guidance from the researchers present and to learn from each other's successes and challenges."

Dr. Sekai Chedeya of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, emphasized the need for programs to appeal to a diverse range of clients when providing prevention education. "The most successful programs are the creative ones that make clients comfortable, and therefore more likely to stay connected to services. Small touches can make a big difference," said Dr. Chedeya.

Dr. Seth Kalichman, an originator of the Healthy Relationships Intervention, has been touring the country, evaluating agencies' implementation and adaptation of the program over the past 3 years. "Sharing with each other, making it work, making it fit, is where the action is."

ASC extends special thanks to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, NYS DOH, NYC DOHMH and CDC for their leadership in organizing this summit. For more information about ASC's education and training programs, contact Guy@ascnyc.org.

Photo: David Nager/ASCNYC

March 20, 2009

Diane Williams, ASC Trainer

The statistics are grim:

Blacks comprise more than half of New York City's new HIV cases. Among newly diagnosed New Yorkers, Blacks are the least likely to begin treatment within three months. Black New Yorkers are also 2.5 times more likely to die from HIV-related causes.

With that in mind, ASC joined thousands of sister organizations across the U.S. to mark this year's Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on February 6. The urgent, poignant theme: "Black Life is Worth Saving".

The day began with moving testimonials from Peer Educators, ministers and providers about the importance of overcoming stigma, fighting hopelessness, and building community. "HIV is real, and 20 years into this epidemic, Black people are still getting infected. It's up to us to put this issue on the top of the prevention agenda nationally because our lives are worth saving," says Diane Williams, ASC's Training Coordinator.

ASC's Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day activities included free HIV testing, exercise and nutrition classes, and a community lunch. "Each one reach one and teach one," is how Diane Williams forcefully puts it. "It's up to us to get the word out that prevention, testing, and treatment can save lives—our lives."

Photo: David Nager/ASCNYC

March 20, 2009

It's an exciting recognition of their powerful work. ASC poets have been invited to read their original compositions at Barnes & Noble's Union Square location in honor of National Poetry Month. Join the women and men of ASC's Creative Writing Workshop for an evening of inspiration, emotion, and courage. Location: 33 East 17th Street, 4th Floor. You'll receive a complimentary new issue of Situations, ASC's acclaimed literary magazine.

Photo: David Nager/ASCNYC

March 20, 2009

I was diagnosed in 1987. I lived for 13 years as a couch potato in Staten Island. In 2000, I got tired of not doing anything meaningful. It was like an ongoing sabbatical to nowhere. My old thinking didn't give me any points of reference. I wanted to make my mark on the world. Become a productive member of society.

Someone told me about ASC's Peer program and outreach. I came here and did the PREP training. My commute was two-and-a-half hours each way from Staten Island by bus, boat, and train (if you miss that ferry, you lose half an hour). I had perfect attendance, three times a week over eight weeks.

The Peer Program got me highly motivated. I'm a people person, engage them easily. I had limited experience with some agencies, but found the atmosphere at ASC warm, friendly, nurturing. I enjoyed the people who worked here. They saw stuff in me I didn't see.

I started as a Peer Educator helping people who'd been in recovery but were in danger of using. I know about having no direction--the old thinking comes back. To direct people, you can't just say, "You have to do this and that." You have to encourage them, give them an opportunity. You have to accept people for who they are, where they are.

I was a Peer for 4 years, and then I got a job at ASC as an HIV Counselor, doing harm reduction, outreach and testing. It's great to be able to get up and say "I'm looking forward to the opportunities and challenges of my job." The best thing is that it doesn't even feel like a job.

I work out of ASC's East Harlem facility. The focus is on testing. The people we see are a complete mix. You have naïve, sexually active adolescents who don't believe it's their issue. You see senior citizens who feel the same way, for different reasons. I want to help people and make them realize, "Maybe this is good for me." Testing is a win-win. In either case, if you're positive or negative, ASC is here to help.

It's been so gratifying that our work is catching on. People feel a connection with the office, like we're part of the community. People come here to talk about their issues. ASC's approach is open-door. I stand in front of my office to reach people. I say "Good morning" or "Hello" or "How are you doing". It's about visibility. My challenge is to make HIV a community issue, to give people the information, and to empower them to pass it on.

Photo: David Nager/ASCNYC

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