AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families
“AIDS Alliance is the platform that gives voice to a person living with HIV or AIDS,” says Linda H. Scruggs, director of programs, who is HIV-positive.
Linda can relate to many AIDS Alliance consumer members, as she is a former substance abuser, has survived two rapes, battled depression, and contemplated suicide. “Like many members, my self-esteem was extremely low…,” she says, then repeats with a half-smile, “…low.” And twenty years ago she faced a tragic dilemma like many other women. She was pregnant and found out that she was HIV-positive. Since the life-saving drug cocktail was not yet available, the doctors suggested that she abort the fetus since it would probably be HIV-positive and eventually die.
“They told me that I had the option of terminating the pregnancy to prolong my health, and they offered me, with the termination, five years to live,” remembers Scruggs. “If I did not terminate this baby, we would probably both be dead within three years.” Today, on this role model’s office wall hangs pictures of her life’s journey that include, yes, her twenty-year-old son, Isaiah, her adopted son Lawrence, her husband Nathaniel and family and friends from the HIV community. Linda is also a minister and on her desk sits a sign that reads “God answers knee mail.” She explains, “This quote states the foundation of who I am, my strength to endure life and its challenges, and to enjoy its blessings.”
Linda’s passion is helping others through the organization. “AIDS Alliance is a matchmaker!” she jovially offers. “Its function is to foster partnerships with its members and HIV/AIDS providers. We connect our members to what they need in order to work together in their local community to support positive health outcomes that benefit individuals and families impacted by HIV or AIDS.” For example, many newly diagnosed clients contact AIDS Alliance needing AIDS education and counseling and the organization might hook them up through their national network of Ryan White grantees with a local AIDS organization and/or refer them to a licensed therapist. If a client wants further information on the epidemic or wants to get more involved, AIDS Alliance might keep them informed of upcoming seminars around the nation. The organization is hotwired to over 650 research, care, and prevention programs.
Under the umbrella of AIDS Alliance, the nonprofit’s Consumer Education Center provides training and support to women, youth, and families to help them in caring for themselves and their family members and then to take that training and pepper it throughout their own communities.
A grant from Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) allowed AIDS Alliance to sponsor a national Consumer Leadership Training Corps. Once a client finishes the program they then can demonstrate their leadership in their communities by training others about HIV/AIDS. Other education and training programs are listed below:
• The Community Leadership Initiative Program trains and mentors local peer coordinators to enhance training skills and to take on new leadership roles in their home communities to impact HIV planning and service delivery.
• Voices of Change is an advocacy training and skills building program specifically for women living with HIV. Through seminars and Web-based trainings, women learn how to tell their personal story and journey living with HIV and connect it to public policy issues to better their community.
• Y-SENSE (Youth Sexual Health Education National Standards for Excellence) is a new national program developed by AIDS Alliance funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Adolescent and School Health (CDC-DASH). Y-SENSE works with juvenile justice staff and community partners, alternative schools, and homeless and runaway shelters to reduce the risk for health disparities among youth in and out of custody through the implementation of effective, comprehensive sexual health promotion policies and best practices.
• The Advanced Skills for Consumer Education & National Development (ASCEND) Leadership Training Program trains peers to develop and deliver innovative messages to reach their peers and community members with essential HIV treatment education. The goal of the peer-led initiative is to reach out to those not-in-care or lost-to-care and help them gain and retain regular primary medical care.
• VOICES is the annual conference of AIDS Alliance that joins together members and care providers to share information. During the conference, some items that might be discussed are policy concerns and the latest medical updates. Advocacy Day is a big part of VOICES and provides an opportunity for consumers and providers to visit with their elected officials and educate them on the impact of HIV in their lives and in their community. This conference is the only national conference solely dedicated to AIDS and women, children, youth, and families.
AIDS Alliance is also an advocacy group that is perpetually present in Washington, D.C. Its major focus of advocacy is expanding access for their clients to HIV/AIDS care, support, and prevention, with an emphasis on those who are not cared for. “This advocacy supports our program efforts working to get underserved people into care and help them stay in care,” clarifies Linda. “No one can fight AIDS alone. We all depend on each other to create change.”
Some fundraisers include the AIDS Walk Washington, sponsored by Whitman-Walker Health, which just took place at the end of October. This year after the death of Allen Huff, an AIDS pioneer and long-term board member of AIDS Alliance, the organization developed the Allen Huff Leadership Fund. The fund ensures that consumer board members have the skills and tools necessary to lead the agency forward.
One of the organization’s newest projects, which is still in production, is designed to help slash HIV stigma. The media campaign is called “HIV, My Life, My Story, My Dreams” and the video will consist of testimonials by individuals who are HIV-positive. The video will then be available on the AIDS Alliance YouTube channel. In fact, in early November at the annual United States Conference on AIDS, which is sponsored by the National Minority AIDS Council, AIDS Alliance will be videotaping those interested in participating. If you would like to contribute and tell your story, please contact the organization.
To learn more about the HIV/AIDS programs that Linda H. Scruggs coordinates, and for additional information about AIDS Alliance’s programs, visit www.aids-alliance.org.