"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."