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April 13, 2006

"I'm a survivor, living with HIV/AIDS for 20 years. I got infected through unprotected sex with my husband, who was an IV drug user. In 1989, when he was hospitalized with pneumonia, I learned he was HIV-positive. I waited three months before getting tested. I thought, ‘I don't use drugs, I'm taking care of my children, I'm the family breadwinner—this can't happen to me.' At the time, the doctors gave us both a year to live. After my husband passed away, I took some time to get my life together. I thought, ‘I made it through the year—now it's time to live my life and move on.'

"In 1992, I found ASC and participated in the second cycle of ASC's Peer Leadership Training Program. From there, I volunteered at ASC's Lower East Side satellite site and helped turn that space into ASC's Drop-in Center. My colleague Luis and I served as Peer Educators there. We took people off the street, gave them a change of clothing, fed them, and brought them to detox programs, medical appointments, and ASC's supportive services. Later, ASC re-named the Drop-in Center 'Luis and Lillian's Room' in our honor.

"In 2003, I joined ASC's Consumer Advisory Council and soon became its president. I organize the monthly meetings, prepare the agenda, make sure the minutes are done, and remind the members of the meeting schedule. If a member of the council gets sick, I visit them in the hospital or mail them get-well cards. I try to keep track of folks and stay in touch.

"ASC's council members are the voice of the other consumers; we know what we need and we share that information with the agency. But the council isn't just advising—it's active. We support the agency and help it to run more smoothly, because this is our space. At ASC, the staff and Peer Educators are compassionate and treat the clients well—they have the heart for this work. I've gone to other service organizations where consumers with HIV still face stigma and labels, but ASC is a safe space that's really there when people need it."

Lillian Cotto-Anglada is the founder of CARING HANDS for Positive Woman, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides the Harlem community with support for women of color and their children.

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