Health Fair Tackles AIDS

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(NDRI Director Bruce Stepherson explains how NDRI-AOP does street outreach).

On a recent Wednesday, the National Development and Research Institutes (NDRI) and the Center for AIDS Outreach and Prevention (AOP) held their First Annual Health Fair on West 114th Street in Harlem.

As always, their purpose was to reach out to the community with free services, including drug use risk and harm reduction materials; HIV, HBV, and HCV screening; as well as referrals to social and medical services and to drug and alcohol treatment.

“The underpinning of what we call ‘street outreach’ is that we try to bring services directly to the actual substance abuser or those who are HIV-positive and in need of social and medical services,� said NDRI Director, Bruce Stepherson. “We go into shooting galleries where people inject drugs, crack dens where people smoke crack – places where normal service providers don't go. We reach out to the population that doesn't have entitlements, that are homeless, stigmatized, marginalized – in other words, the people that a lot of organizations and institutions don't want to deal with.�

Stepherson went on to explain that NDRI-AOP networks with many other service providers, as represented by those participating in the fair. “Each of them offers a certain package of services that our clients want or need,� he stated. “We have linkage agreements with these organizations – an agreement between agencies that says that if we find somebody in need of their services, the agency agrees to take them right then. That's the beauty of it.�

He concluded that NDRI-AOP has storefront locations in Brooklyn (718) 452-8682, the Bronx (718) 991-1424, Queens (718) 845-1788 and Manhattan (212) 678-4712. At the fair, visitors were able to go from table to table set up along the street and obtain all kinds of written information and other items to help them lead safer lives. They were also invited to eat a nice hot lunch cooked on the spot by grill master Dennis Wright and served up by other NDRI-APO staff.

Visitors could also enter a van provided by the Ryan Community Health Center, (212) 749-1820 to get free and confidential HIV/AIDS screenings and various other tests, or get a back massage from Kenny Trent, who provides acupuncture and reiki services with New York Harm Reduction Educators, Inc. (NYHRE), (718) 842-8730. 

NYHRE, the largest syringe exchange program in the City, also does street outreach, setting up tents in the South Bronx and Harlem from Tuesday through Saturday to give out free syringes, including to diabetics. As Anthony and Terrell Jones explained, NYHRE also hosts the Survivors Group, a support group that seeks to empower women by emphasizing their strengths and their ability to transcend the negative experiences of the past. It meets every Wednesday at 2 – 3 pm at 1991A Lexington Avenue, near 125th Street in Harlem. Every Thursday at the same time and place, they offer a Women’s Sexuality Group to help women examine the roles they play in relationships so that they can connect their own possible risky behavior to the spread of HIV. For more information call (212) 828-8464.

Another participating organizations was Exponents, (800) 673-7370, which provides free and confidential services to help transform the lives of people who are HIV positive or are active or recovering drug users. Jerry Johnson was informing people about Exponents’ Arrive Training in which they train people free of charge in how to do outreach work for harm reduction, HIV and AIDS, substance abuse, and domestic violence. Those taking the training get a metro card to travel back and forth to the classes, and upon completion of the approximately 12 week course, they get a certificate that is recognized any place in New York State and may lead to employment in that field. Registration and intake assessment for these day and evening classes will be held on Monday, October 16. For further information or to reserve a slot, contact Ivette Melendez at (212) 243-3434 Ext. 117 or Leslie McKethan, ext. 127.

Also there to fill a vital need was The Family Center, (800) 219-4522, whose work is based on the belief that every child deserves an answer to the question, “Who will take care of me?� This organization assists families with a seriously ill parent, along with grandparents and other older caregivers who are raising children as a result of parental illness or absence.

Other service providers were Palladia Homebase (212) 979-8800, which offers a continuum of care to individuals recovering from substance abuse and trauman; Harlem East Life Plan (212) 876-2300, which specializes in chemical dependency treatment, medical treatment, urgent care, and specialty care referrals; and the Boriken Neighborhood Health Center (212) 289-6650. As one observed the communication between the service providers and the visitors to the fair, the workers’ heartfelt dedication was evident. In the warm and welcoming atmosphere they created, much information was conveyed which will surely have a positive effect not only on the individuals who attended the fair, but on the entire community with which they interact.

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