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