Hmmmm, do I detect the feel of fall in the Alabama air? These cool Southern nights have me thinking of the things I love most, so thought today’s blog might be one of those kinda lists. I’ve been doing some soul-searching and working on ways to make life more content and positive for myself and those around me, so let’s focus on some yummy, good things for a change.
Things I like:
Watching my grandson play football on a Friday night, (winning is good too!).
Breakfast for supper! Grits, biscuits, eggs and bacon…oh my!
Giving NEGATIVE HIV test results to a worried person who’s made some poor choices recently, and knowing that through prevention counseling we can help them make positive changes to stay healthy.
Seeing a Person Living With HIV (PLWH) feel better, make all their clinic appointments, and take control of their health and medication regimen.
Watching Prevention Specialists teach, train, demonstrate, and educate our community on how to prevent substance abuse, and HIV infection.
Seeing prevention project evaluation data results that demonstrate people CAN change risky behaviors and learn how to prevent and reduce the problems that substance abuse and risky sexual behavior brings to their lives. Thank you SAMHSA, CDC, and grant funders who recognize that and fund our projects!
Learning that local drug stores and “super centers” don’t usually carry latex dental dams (barriers for oral sex), non-latex condoms (for those sensitive to latex), or the “female” condom, cause now I have a new objective – to find out why the heck they don’t!! The more safer-sex options the better!!
Observing a prevention case manager in our Prevention department as he works patiently and diligently to find resources for the young mother whose needs include; housing, food, parenting skills, GED training, childcare options, job training, partner violence counseling, and transportation. And only THEN can he work with her to address her substance use and risks for HIV infection.
A big bowl of butterbeans, and cornbread made from stone ground corn from the Old Mill in Pigeon Forge, TN.
Progressive, forward-thinking and compassionate persons who are able to listen and learn without shock, disgust or judgment when someone tells them they are a drug user, have risky sexual behaviors, may be homeless, are living with HIV, etc. Until we can embrace one another regardless of current life situation we cannot help one another.
Being older (not quite sure about the “wiser” part yet) because I find I’m so much more accepting, tolerant and forgiving; and I’m much less likely to put up with bigotry, discrimination, bullying, ignorance, and intolerance! So watch out!
Phone calls from students at local colleges and others who want to volunteer and learn more about HIV and substance abuse. I wish we had more volunteer opportunities, I want to foster this interest in the field of HIV and substance abuse, especially prevention, we need young voices and modern viewpoints in this arena, us old folks need to know someone will take up the cause.
Riding in the back seat with grandkids and their friends who don’t think I’m a crazy ole grandmother when I talk to them about icky sexual and drug abuse things like sex, weed, Spice, beer, making out at parties, bullying, condoms, HIV testing, “waiting/postponing” sex cause it’s a good thing to do, etc.
Watching Rhett Butler and Dandy, my Shih Tzu fur babies as they zip around the back yard; I think they know its autumn too!
Schools, organizations, clubs, churches, and community agencies who collaborate, cooperate and appreciate that we HAVE to work together to effect change in our community and that we can accomplish so much more when we combine our expertise and resources.
Walking and eating our way across the French Quarter in New Orleans!
Facebook, Twitter, the internet, blogging, and social media and its’ impact on prevention! We are so connected today and these tools allow us to reach more, teach more, and it gives me hope that prevention will be more successful because of it.
That wonderful machine called CPAP, cause now that Babe (my hubby) has one, we ALL sleep better!
Attending conferences, training courses, and workshops such as the U.S. Conference on AIDS, because it allows us to stay up to date on the ever changing world of HIV and substance abuse prevention and treatment. Employees who are trained, informed, and refreshed make better prevention advocates and are able to give more to their clients and to their community.
Co-workers who come to work each day with a smile (even if they need to fake it a little till after their coffee), and who avoid workplace gossip and negativity – because our clients deserve more and we need to keep each other strong, cause it’s tough to work with populations who have so many needs and challenges.
Sitting in my easy chair on a Sunday afternoon, blogging away, dogs in my lap, football on the TV and chili simmering on the stove.
Remembering to be grateful that I have a job that provides me the opportunity to reach out to those who may have lost their way due to drugs and alcohol, or who may be living with a life threatening disease. I’ve done it for over 25 years, and I’m dang good at it, so there!
Happy Autumn to you all!!
Take a moment to make your own list of things you love, I didn’t have a bit of trouble making mine and I could add a thousand more things to it, (and that was good for me to remember!).
Health Services Center – 866-832-0100
Revolution Drop in Center: 320 East 15th St. Anniston, AL - Phone 256-405-4104
Find us on Facebook: Project REAL, Reentry, Education and Linkages, and Project Vortex
World AIDS Day Community Awareness Event, info coming soon!
Hello again, sorry it’s been awhile; bronchitis has no respect for the blogger’s schedule! Spending a week on antibiotics and steroids and getting “shotgunned” in the booty with anti-inflammatory meds will squash the creative mind just a tad. Unable to go to work; I’ve browsed the web, updated my Facebook, played some Bookworm, slept medication fueled naps, and now days later can finally see the light at the end of the coughing, sniffling, headachy, congested, feel like I’m gonna croak, tunnel. Anyway, let’s talk Prevention again…cause substance abuse and HIV/AIDS don’t take a sick day.
I wanted to use today’s blog to tell you about prevention programs currently in our area. The Health Service Center (HSC-my employer) is a not-for –profit medical center, with a primary mission of providing medical and supportive services for persons living with HIV in 14 counties of N.E. Alabama. As part of our mission we also seek to provide community education around HIV, substance abuse, and other risk factors that contribute to new infections and poor health outcomes for our community. www.hscal.org
Since the founding of HSC in the late 1980s, the agency has made it a priority to seek grants and funding for prevention education. HIV infection can be prevented, recovery from addiction is possible, education is the key. Beginning in the year 2000, HSC was granted funding through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA) www.samhsa.gov for community programs that provided street outreach, prevention education, HIV testing, safer sex supplies distribution, and referral and support for any who were found to be HIV positive. Several grants have been funded over the last few years and currently three SAMSHA grant funded prevention projects are operating in our area. Let me tell you about them.
Project REAL (Reentry, Education and Linkages) 2008-2013. The REAL project is a program focused on the at-risk person who is reentering their community after incarceration. Research has shown that many persons reenter their community without the information and skills they need to protect themselves and others from risky sexual and drug using behaviors. We are familiar with the significant challenges facing someone coming back home after prison or jail, such as; housing, health concerns, job training, parenting and family issues, addiction, domestic violence, financial difficulties, stigma, discrimination, etc. (the list goes on and on). For the reentering individual it may seem overwhelming when told to walk out the prison gates and “get your act together”. The rates of recidivism or those who return to prison, in Alabama reaches over 60% in some areas. That’s not working, folks! The Alabama Dept. of Corrections and other local, state and federal agencies are working to provide discharge planning and linkage to community services for the reentering person so that there is help for that mountain of obstacles. That’s where Project REAL comes in.
If you have a recent history of incarceration, are over 19 years old, have a history of drug and alcohol use and/or risky sexual behaviors, you may qualify for the REAL program. REAL hopes to reach minorities and those who often don’t have prevention support upon release from prison or jail. Our Reentry Services Specialist makes an effort to network with all local law enforcement, corrections, probation and parole, and other organizations or agencies who work with the reentry population. A simple call to a Project REAL staffer at 256-832-0100 can get information to anyone who might benefit from the program. The program offers: 90 days of program support - with individual prevention counseling over 5-7 sessions with a Prevention Case Manager, goals setting, education and skills building, free HIV testing and counseling, and referral and information for other needs not provided by HSC. REAL participants are able to learn the basic facts about substance abuse and HIV, how to negotiate condom use and proper use of condoms, how to access needed services such as GED training and family and parenting skills, and referral info for intensive substance abuse treatment, if needed. Project REAL can be a building block for the reentry person’s plan for successfully ‘starting over’. Call HSC for more info on Project REAL, and follow the project on Facebook at Project REAL, Reentry Education and Linkages.
The Vortex Project 2010-2015. Vortex will provide comprehensive substance abuse and HIV prevention services targeting minority females ages 19-24, particularly on area college campuses. Current partners are Jacksonville State University, Talladega College, and Gadsden State Community College. Due to a variety of factors, Alabama and other areas are seeing a rising trend of HIV infections among young adult females, especially African Americans. www.adph.org Vortex prevention staff will be providing on-campus interventions that include free HIV testing and counseling, 2 private sessions of individual prevention counseling, and campus outreach. The program hopes to achieve community and environmental change by offering training sessions, awareness events, public speakers, testing events and health fairs. The connection between drug and alcohol abuse and HIV infection is a powerful factor that requires education and easy access to prevention services to combat - especially critical is testing and counseling. Knowing your HIV status, whether negative or positive is crucial; it’s cool to know your status and we have to spread that message to our young women and their partners. Look for the Vortex RV or exhibit table at campus events, stop by for free prevention supplies, pick up some educational materials, and ask how you can be a part of our Peer Advisory Groups, (forming now). Call HSC and ask for a Vortex staff member for more info, 256-832-0100.
The Revolution Project 2010-2015. Similar to the Vortex Project, Revolution is funded to provide prevention services to young adult females, especially African Americans, ages 19-24 in our N.E. Alabama community. Revolution hopes to reduce substance abuse and risky sexual behaviors through the provision of HIV testing and counseling, and with the operation of a community “drop-in-center”. Located at 320 East 15th Street in Anniston, AL. the center is open now, (see picture) offering free HIV testing and counseling, prevention education activities, and linkage and referral to other prevention related services in our area. Young adult females who qualify can enroll in a two-session program called RESPECT, get a free HIV test, pick-up safer sex supplies, and earn gifts and prizes, etc. The Revolution staff will be in the Calhoun and Etowah County community, providing public speaking, health fairs, and testing events, and hope to see you at the drop-in-center soon! Call Revolution for more info. 256-405-4104. Revolution will be forming their Peer Advisory Group over the next few months, you could play a role in reducing substance abuse and HIV among young women in your community, call us now!
So, as you can see there is amazing prevention activity going on in our community right now! We hope to make a difference, get you involved, and create a prevention prepared community that is healthier and safer!
Some of you may ask - why are we focused on specific groups (reentry, young women, minorities, etc.) rather than just general prevention programs and messages? There are many reasons that we might give, but one of the most important is that the community issues around substance abuse and HIV are PUBLIC HEALTH issues. They affect us all, and in today’s difficult economic times and budget cuts to health care and social service programs; it is imperative that we get the “most bang for our buck” from our grant funds. When statistics and research indicate that specific groups need special attention, with age, gender and culturally sensitive programs; that is what we make every effort to do! HSC is a small, rural agency. We cannot do it alone! With our small and well trained staff we work with our community partners, other area non-profits, churches, schools, clubs, businesses, etc. to achieve program successes. We need your voice and your participation. Your “word of mouth” is the best marketing and public relations we could have. We are counting on you.
I’ll sign off today with a few links for you to check out if you’d like more information about prevention. Enjoy. Please leave a comment if you have questions or would like to know more about a specific prevention related topic.
http://dasis3.samhsa.gov/ Substance Abuse Treatment Program Locator
http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/templates/browse.aspx?lvl=2&lvlid=36 The Minority AIDS Initiative
http://www.doc.state.al.us/reentryresources.asp Alabama Dept. Of Corrections Reentry Resources
http://adph.org/aids/assets/manifestoupdate08.pdf The Southern AIDS Coalition’s AIDS Manifesto for the South
http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/women/index.htm CDC Report on HIV and Women
http://aids.gov/ HIV/AIDS Resources
http://www.statehealthfacts.org/profileglance.jsp?rgn=2# Alabama Women’s Health Facts
It seems that we all are in a hurry these days. In a hurry to get to work; school, the grocery store, the daycare, the party, the club, the game, the first of the line, the front row at a concert, the back row at church, the doctor’s appointment, the hairdresser, the airport, the barber shop, the restaurant, and on and on goes the list. Are you sure you really have time to be reading my blog right now, just kidding, don’t go!
I mention the hustle and bustle because I am wondering why we rush headlong to “get somewhere” and miss out on so much along the way in our haste. As a child of the 50s, and the daughter of a red-headed trucker who was rumored to haul moonshine back in the day, in a souped-up 1940 Ford coupe; and as a kid who spent many a night in the red dirt of the Anniston Speedway watching “real” racecars (not today’s namby-pamby cars of tomorrow) go round and round the track, I tend to sometimes think in what many would call “Redneck style”, so hang with me.
Now don’t get all huffy on me, I’m talking the Redneck who would give you the shirt off their (tattooed) back, help your Mama carry in the groceries, and works at a job that leaves his hands greasy and calloused so he can provide for the family he loves. Not a bigoted stereotype you’ve decided is a lazy, no good, trailer park living, refrigerator in the front yard, car on cement blocks kinda Redneck. I want to paint a picture that reflects MY world, and that of many others in the South, although by no means is Redneck the prevailing culture in my neck of the woods. But I sorta feel the need to “own” the word Redneck while we chat about culture. (not THAT kind of culture).
I am by no means an expert on cultural diversity or cultural competence in the workplace or community, yet the topic is one that is so important for professionals who work with persons who use/abuse drugs and alcohol, and those whose sexual behaviors put them at risk for HIV/AIDS. In a long career working as a Prevention educator in rural Alabama, it has been my pleasure to learn about a variety of cultural, racial/ethnic, and behavioral differences. I’ve learned so much more from the clients I work with than I could ever teach on my own. The African American mother in her tiny apartment, the elderly Hispanic grandmother in the mobile home, the gay white man in a garden home, the hip hop-loving teen hanging by the pool in his suburban home; they all have cultural differences but when it comes to substance abuse or risk for HIV infection we all become part of a fairly similar population or culture. Sure, the differences matter, but it’s the similarities that bind us together.
Whether it is a 12 pack of Miller or Bud, or a $60 bottle of Merlot, whether it’s a big ole blunt, a buttery crack rock, or an expensive prescribed narcotic – the substance use creates a huge “family tie”, and income, gender, heritage, culture or status become less obvious. It’s no accident that persons in recovery from drugs/alcohol will often mention their “community”, their recovery family, brother, sister, etc. Its pure survival that brings poor minority females together to pool their money to buy baby food and diapers, and it’s a sense of “family” that bonds the marginalized LGBTQ into tight knit communities where they feel loved and protected. By the way, LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning. Learn it. Have questions about it? Let me know, we’ll talk. What I guess I’m trying to say is when you get down to that street level, gut level, do or die place where prevention education and awareness matter most – it matters to me how I can reduce your risks and help you live healthy; not get HIV infected or if you are already infected, not spread it to others. So, yes, your culture matters to me, I want to respect it, learn about it, honor it, and use it as a tool toward prevention success.
Okay, so back to being in a hurry all the time. In my work as a substance abuse and HIV prevention program director I sometimes feel like I am pedal to the metal, giving Dale Jr. a run for his money, through my hectic work week. Fueled by Diet Dr. Pepper and Krispy Kremes (rather than Sunoco) I hit the ground running each morning and don’t slow down till usually around 1:30 or 2:00 a.m. (It’s actually only 10:39 p.m. right now, wooo hooo!)
Lately, I’ve begun to wonder if I am missing something, speeding by important parts of my life in my quest to meet project goals, provide awesome prevention services to help our community and my neighbors, trying to please federal grant makers; my employer, my staff, (AND my hubby) all at the same time. I’ve attended those “how to supervise difficult people” seminars and have realized I’m a “people pleasing, overachieving, tender hearted, procrastinating, Baby Boomer” who needs to make a few more pit stops before the race ends and the checkered flag waves. I need to prioritize, organize and maximize (giggle) my time. Bwahahahahahahha, yea, like I’m gonna do that after all these years!
But, anyway you get the picture. I want to be more than just a competent employee, wife, mother, grandmother, sister, etc. I want to help myself and others transcend that barrier that we bump up against that says “she/he is poor, uneducated, not good enough, from the wrong side of the tracks, too old, too young, too fat, too skinny, too gay, too WHATEVER”! I long for less labels on myself and my community, and for more practical, smart and useful methods to lift us up, educate and inform us and make us aware so that our lives are healthier and safer.
I just returned from that 6 days of the 2011 National HIV Prevention Conference mentioned in a previous post. I’m a little overwhelmed with statistics, federal “healthcare speak”, academic presentations of laboratory results, and other assorted conference STUFF. I guess the take-away from it all is: there are warriors in this prevention fight, there is so much need, there are tools available to PREVENT, and I am in this fight to the end. I hope to share more from the conference with you in the next posts, especially about using social media; Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc. to fight substance abuse and HIV/AIDS.
So, no matter what your background, be it wealthy and privileged, low income and struggling, middle class or homeless; you are involved in this fight against substance abuse and HIV/AIDS. I’ve heard from many of you already who’ve read the blog, (keep those comments coming!) and it was a thrill to have my blog’s web address “re-tweeted” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to their over 7,500 Twitter followers, resulting in almost 2,000 views for the Prevention Works blog! I’m liking this Community Bloggers project a lot and hope you are too.
I’d like to think our conversations will bring us together into a prevention prepared community that can help achieve social justice and equity for us all, no matter what cultural background we claim. Your homework till next time is to slow down a little (sorta like that yellow flag at a NASCAR race), take a few caution laps, look at those around you and see beyond color, age, gender, size, race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.
Some points to ponder:
In our state African Americans make up around 26% of our population, but over 64% of all new HIV infections. www.adph.org
In our state African American males make up 44% of all reported HIV/AIDS cases.
In our state among all persons living in poverty in Alabama 16% were white, 36% were Black and 31% were Hispanic.
The age group most likely to live in poverty in Alabama is children 18 and under (32% living in poverty), followed by adults age 19 to 64 (20% living in poverty)
Alabama averages 40,000 high school drop outs annually and ranks 44th in the nation for persons over age 25 having a bachelor’s degree or higher (US Census, 2008).
Alabama Medicaid does not cover most sexual/reproductive health screening and prevention services, including HPV vaccine, STD testing, STD treatment, HIV testing, and emergency contraceptives (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2009).
Alabama’s teen death rate for 2008 was 93/100,000 compared to 62/100,000 nationwide.
Alabama’s diabetes rate is 26/100,000 compared to 22/100,000 nationally. Heart disease rates are 236/100,000 versus 191/1000 annually. (Kaiser Family Foundation: www.statehealthfacts.org, 2009).
So, whatever culture you identify with, you are welcome here! As Sister Sledge sings, “We are family”, and KC and the Sunshine Band says, “That’s the way I like it, uh huh, uh huh”. I’d like to think of you as my Prevention Family, so come back soon. Be sure to share my blog with your email pals, your Facebook and Twitter friends, the more the merrier! http://www.annistonstar.com/blogs_preventionworks
Health Services Center website
Well, this blog thing has me staying awake at night thinking about how to best tell the stories, move our community to action, reach your heart, tick you off, make you giggle, and make you come back for more. I've been reading my fellow Community Bloggers and enjoying the heck out of it! It's a neat feeling to use my words and thoughts; my company's laptop, and a big dose of insomnia to spread the substance abuse and HIV prevention message.
I'm packing tonight to leave for 6 days in HotLanta for the 2011 National HIV Prevention Conference - sponsored by the CDC, and for a Grantee Meeting with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (who fund the prevention programs at HSC, where I work). So it's going to be an exciting and busy week for me.
Some of the stuff I'm thinking about - Six days of conference chairs (probably those with no cushions), conference chicken lunches (there is a secret farm with a special breed of rubber chickens bred solely for this purpose), conference schedules (the meeting room you need for the 3:00 lecture is 3 football fields; two escalators and one long jog away from the one you're in now, and it's 2:59), conference room sound systems (with the required feedback howl that could just possibly bring on a seizure I'm sure), 4,231 PowerPoint presentations (three of which are simply amazing and make it completely worthwhile that I'm there!), I'm mostly joking - cause above all it's the opportunity to exist for almost a week with my awesome colleagues and fellow Prevention professionals, who most likely have a "calling", and are just meant to be doing this work.
If you grew up a "trailer park kid" like me in rural Alabama, you may remember the first time you traveled to the BIG CITY. Maybe it was New York, or Chicago, anywhere that was NOT Alabama. Seems like the world was faster, more colorful, louder, weirder and definitely exciting. That's how I feel when I'm with my peeps at a Prevention Conference. Because substance abuse and HIV do not discriminate there is the most diverse, edgy, intelligent, creative, and often just plain bizarre group of people who work in this field.
Risky behaviors such as injecting drug use, binge drinking, commercial sex work; and lifestyles that most likely would make your Mama blush are commonplace among the clients I work with daily. In order to effectively serve my community, spread the prevention message, and provide testing, counseling and treatment services, it is imperative that I and others like me maintain an impartial and non-judgmental perspective at all times.
So, for this chubby grandmother it is just a "regular day at the office" to be found alongside persons with a purple Mohawk or pink wig, piercings and tattoos, glittery nightclub attire with construction worker boots; persons in recovery from drugs and alcohol or deeply troubled by their misuse and abuse, persons who identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and a long list of other "labels" that they may have possibly chosen to call themselves or been given by others, some not printable here.
At a national conference such as the one in Atlanta, it is a hoot to people-watch. I absolutely LOVE "different". Unlike some of my stick in the mud relatives who get their panties in a wad because they still reside in that world where if your skin color, hairstyle, accent, or pedigree isn't like theirs you aren't welcome - I delight in the parade of beautiful people who seem to often wear their heart like a blinking neon sign because they care so much and want to make a difference for those who suffer from addiction or illness. To work in the social service or not for profit field, especially prevention, you don't have to be a former drug user, homeless, hungry, or be living with HIV or hepatitis, although many have "been there-done that" you can be an advocate for those who need help whatever your personal history. And these are "my people" (saying that just made me grin).
Some other stuff I'm thinking about:
1. Will Atlanta traffic be awful?
2. Will one of the researchers who speak at this conference be the ONE who finds a cure for AIDS?
3. I'm definitely going to get some of that awesome Mac and Cheese from that seafood restaurant down the street from the conference hotel.
4. Please let my federal Project Officer be proud of the Poster Presentation that we will be doing on Wednesday for our fellow grantees, I want to make them proud and I want our projects to continue to change people's lives.
5. Are flip-flops acceptable conference footwear? (mine have jewels, so I'm thinking YES).
6. Will I learn some new teaching technique, tip, or skill that will help me provide exceptional prevention counseling to someone who wants to change their life and behavior?
7. Please let there be speakers and presenters at this conference who have a sense of humor, live in the real world, and aren't "know it alls"!
8. I'm going to miss my hubby (from here on we'll call him Babe) my precious Shih Tzus; Rhett Butler and Dandy, and my Tempurpedic mattress. My Babe will be fishing, boating, having a nap in the back yard swing and missing me terribly I'm sure.
9. Saying to myself - "Please don't forget the IPhone charger when you checkout of the hotel".
10. I'm hoping you are enjoying the blog so far, and will give me your feedback and comments.
If you'd like to know more about the 2011 National HIV Prevention Conference check them out at www.2011nhpc.org and I'll keep you updated throughout the week.
Some stuff for YOU to think about:
Marijuana Fact Sheet http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/pdf/Marijuana.pdf
Prescription Drug Abuse Fact Sheet http://www.theantidrug.com/pdfs/prescription_report.pdf
Homeless Resource Center - http://homeless.samhsa.gov/
Suicide Prevention Resources - http://www.samhsa.gov/prevention/suicide.aspx
Health Services Center - www.hscal.org
HIV Testing Fact Sheets - http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/testing/resources/qa/index.htm
What Women Can Do - http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/women/protection.htm
Gay, Bisexual, Men Who Have Sex With Men Fact Sheet - http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/msm/index.htm
Be Safe, Know Your Status, Get Tested!
Hello again, thanks for coming back. I told you we'd have fun (and maybe learn a thing or two). Thought today I'd share a little snapshot of the Prevention professional's daily grind. Most days we love our job, some days are filled with dread that the risky behaviors we encounter are just going to prove to be too much for some poor soul.
Phone rings - can we provide an exhibit table for a local health fair? Sure! That's our job, no matter that it might be outdoors in the lovely Alabama summer sun, under our tent, in a sizzling parking lot where we gladly pass out educational brochures and safer sex supplies! That's what we do, the message is too important to NOT be there for that community. Thanks for inviting us! And by the way, our federal funder requires that we complete several pages of paperwork to document our day; it's just part of prevention, we may complain but we learn from it and it helps us evaluate the programs that make a difference!
Phone rings - can we provide substance abuse education to at-risk youth in a nearby community? Of course, that's where we need to be. School-aged youth are experimenting with drugs and alcohol at an earlier age, often at 10-12 years of age. Most of us have children of our own, we want them to grow and prosper, enjoy their youth and stay drug free; we bring the prevention message with age appropriate language and materials, and hope that we reach their hearts and minds. When a young athlete approaches you after a school assembly and says he's learned a lot today and wants to know how to help his friend who is using drugs...it's all worthwhile.
Several times a week - A young adult, a teenager, a senior citizen, a mother, a grandfather, walks into our agency and our receptionist pages a Prevention staff member, our guest has requested an HIV test. Believe me, it takes amazing courage and strength to drive yourself to a clinic or health department and lay your sexual history and recent drug use on the table for a testing counselor to assess.
I admire all those who seek HIV screening, it takes guts, especially when you KNOW you've made some poor decisions like having unprotected sex; had sex with multiple partners, had sex while high or intoxicated, traded your body for money or drugs or food for the baby, on and on the stories spill out, and often the tears.
Heard during the testing and counseling interview, "Miss Julie, I've never had sex with anyone except my boyfriend", "Miss Julie, I've never injected drugs or used a needle in my life", "Miss Julie, I'm on the Pill, I wasn't worried about HIV, just didn't want to get pregnant", "Miss Julie, I was faithful, but my wife has just confessed to an affair", "Miss Julie, I was drunk and high and I don't know what happened that night". And those are just a few. The number one comment is probably, "I didn't think it could happen to me".
And the Prevention professional's day is filled with lists; crack, weed, crystal meth, oxy, X/Ecstasy, heroin, Spice, Special K, Salvia, Purple Drank, Powder, herb, acid, angel, crank. Whew! There are new ones to add to the list each day, and the names change from neighborhood to neighborhood, town to town, city to city. If you can smoke it, snort it, shoot it, drink it, we hear about it! Our lovely town of Anniston sits right between the cities of Atlanta and Birmingham, with all the enticing bright lights and exciting offerings that big cities may offer. If it's not sold or distributed or passed out at a party in our home town, a quick ride on I-20 and the menu expands, for both sexual and drug using temptations and delights.
And I have to say that the best part of a Prevention day is when you get to tell someone that their test result is Negative, but now we need to talk about how to KEEP you that way. We need to promote safer behaviors, and abstinence does work no matter what age you may be, whether we are talking about sexual activity or drug and alcohol use. Behavior change can happen, attitudes can change, that's our goal.
It is our responsibility as Prevention professionals to provide non-judgmental, compassionate, comprehensive risk reduction information for those who choose to be sexually active, or struggle with drug and alcohol abuse; it's about public health and disease prevention.
It is our mission to provide resources and referrals for those who desire treatment and counseling for their substance abuse behaviors; to provide medical care and support for those who test positive for HIV and still struggle with addiction. So, often our day continues with the creation of a prevention plan for those who want to live healthier, get clean and sober, and protect their health and that of their loved ones.
Some days we laugh after the person calls after picking up some of our free condoms and asks for "round ones" because the ones in his safer sex kit were in a SQUARE package! And we giggle when we ask a grandmother in a church-sponsored prevention class for women to put that condom on an anatomical penis as she turns beet-red. We de-brief at the end of a huge community health fair to discuss what we could have done better, what worked, and what didn't. Should we have had hip-hop music for the teens? Coffee for the adults? Will this group come to hear our Substance Abuse program if we give them a free T-shirt or would they rather have a water bottle? Prevention works (that's the name of my blog in case you've forgotten) but we have to "sell it"! And that is what I'm hoping to do as we continue on this adventure together, till next time. Be safe!
Alabama Dept. of Public Health HIV/AIDS data www.adph.org
17,674 persons with HIV/AIDS in Alabama (it won't happen to me)
64.10% of all AL cases are African Americans (I thought it was a gay white male disease)
4,498 cases are females (I didn't know how to negotiate condom use)
8,936 cases are persons over 35 years of age (you need to talk to those "teenagers")
24.84% of all cases are in heterosexuals ( but I'm not gay, why should I worry?)