S.O.S. Peer Educators (L-R) John Pinkney, Denise Lomax, James Norris, and Damon Reardon.
Spiritual Outreach Services (S.O.S.) is a collaboration between ASC and the United Church of Christ HIV/AIDS Network (UCAN). S.O.S. provides peer-delivered outreach, HIV prevention education, and HIV counseling, testing and referral services to houses of worship in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The program focuses on communities that have been hit hard by HIV/AIDS.
"We're thrilled about this new collaboration," says ASC's Executive Director/CEO Sharen Duke. "By partnering with faith-based organizations, we can deliver services in communities that are being literally decimated by this epidemic. For years, ASC has 'exported' our services to where they are needed most—drug treatment centers, homeless shelters, and public housing projects, to name just a few. S.O.S. takes this approach even further by providing life-saving services in a faith-based context. Instead of making people come to us for HIV testing, prevention information, and access to care, we're bringing these vital services to them."
S.O.S. focuses on houses of worship in East Harlem, Central Harlem and East New York—economically disenfranchised communities with alarming rates of HIV infection. The program helps parents talk to their children about HIV prevention and designs tailored programs to meet each site's specific needs.
The program also aims to increase the number of people who know their HIV status—and improve their access to medical and mental health care, substance abuse services, housing placement assistance, and other key services.
"In the early 1980s, when we first started talking about HIV and AIDS, it was the world's faith-based institutions, collectively, that primarily made this a disease about stigma, fear, and shame," says ASC Board Member Oliver Martin III, who Chairs the Global HIV/AIDS Ministry at Riverside Church and is closely involved with S.O.S. "I honestly believe it's going to take all people of faith, collectively, to change that perception. The S.O.S. program is a step in the right direction."