With ASC's annual Safer Sex In The City fundraiser coming up in just a few weeks, the time seems right to share ASC's "secret for success" in promoting HIV risk reduction citywide.
One of the main ingredients of our excellent track record is our use of peer education as the mechanism for getting the word out. In the past 15 years, ASC has graduated hundreds of Peer Educators from its extensive peer training programs. Once trained, ASC Peers take what they've learned about risk reduction and health promotion and share these messages with thousands of people in homeless shelters, methadone clinics, food banks, ex-offender programs, and other community settings.
In 2005 alone, ASC Peer Educators conducted over 2,000 prevention education initiatives, reaching nearly 18,000 New Yorkers with life-saving education and links to services. The Peers also provide acupuncture-detox, distribute ASC's food pantry, help out in our "Wonderful Wearables" Clothing Room, and encourage new clients to avail themselves of ASC's case management services, support groups, and educational offerings.
Engaging people who are not connected to the HIV care system involves a gradual process of building trust, credibility, and rapport. "At ASC, we meet people where they're at," explains ASC Outreach Coordinator David Lopez. "Our main goals are to teach people how to prevent HIV and inspire them to do so, help people learn their HIV status, and provide HIV-positive people with access to medical care. However, these tasks are not easy because many people are uncomfortable talking about HIV risk issues."
How does ASC get over this hurtle? "We're accessible and easy to talk to," says Lopez, "Our Peer Educators don't just spout the medical jargon. Instead, they help people feel comfortable by sharing their personal stories and making the information understandable and real."
Armed with the power of knowledge and the skills to share HIV prevention strategies, ASC Peer Educators are role models who inspire behavior change, bringing messages of safety and hope to countless others. Inspiration is a motivating force in making safer sex, risk reduction, and health promotion community norms against seemingly insurmountable odds.
"Each one reach one and teach one," is how Diane Williams, long-time Peer Educator and co-trainer for ASC's Peer Recovery Education Program (PREP), puts it. "Each time I inspire someone I meet doing HIV prevention work to join PREP, I know I'm helping to achieve ASC's mission of ‘helping many, one by one.'"