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Working Towards a Healthier NOLA

By Helene Kirschke-Schwartz, AIDS United AmeriCorps Team New Orleans

Can you believe it’s almost halfway through April? Yeah, that’s what Team NOLA is feeling as this month flies by. March was a busy one for us. With countless meetings, Walgreens testing, Long Term Project, and several other events (cough cough Mardi Gras) – we barely had time to breathe. March was also Healthy Futures Month. We spent the month of March and beginning of April focusing on what we could do as a team to promote healthy living in New Orleans. Below is a snapshot of our “extra healthy” month:

  1. Walgreens testing — This has been such an amazing partnership. Every other Thursday, the four of us head to one of the two Walgreens to test for four hours. We now have laminated signs in each store (yeah, we’re fancy) and two testing spaces. The testing has gone fabulously, especially since we started using INSTI, a 60-second finger-prick test. Find out your status in one minute- um, how could you say NO? More and more people are getting tested each week –and we have officially memorized all of the aisles in Walgreens.
  2. Syphilis Outreach — This is as fun as it sounds (well, fun for us). During the month of March we did outreach in three different locations across New Orleans. The purpose of outreach was to inform the community about free to low-cost testing resources. We also had quite a few conversations about syphilis itself (extra fun!) including the signs and symptoms, local infection rates, risks of no treatment, and treatment options. Needless to say we all have some entertaining stories.
  3. Health Fair- On March 19th Landry-Walker High School held a Health Extravaganza and invited our partner organizations, NO/AIDS Task Force (NATF) and Priority Health Care. Rebecca and I paired up with C.H.A.T. (Curbing HIV/AIDS Transmission), a youth program through NATF, to give away awesome prizes. We managed the “sex education table” where students could spin our wheel for a sexual health-related question. We had a blast! We talked with about 80 kids – all of whom knew little to nothing about HIV and STIs. The students were not shy with their questions which made it way more fun for us.  Overall, it was a well-planned and informative event. There was hula-hooping, food, games, prizes and more!
  4. NYHAAD- My favorite event in the last month or so was definitely National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (mouthful, right?). For NYHAAD, two of our placements hosted a testing/education event (C.H.A.T. Project & The Movement). We had free condoms, educational games, a photo booth… and even fried chicken! The testing event lasted 5 hours so it could accommodate those just getting out of school. We set up a booth outside of The Movement’s office- which happens to be a pretty busy corner- to attract attention to our testing event. A total of 20 people got tested, but plenty of people stopped by to learn….and of course grab food! You may ask- what was the best part of your day, Helene? — JUST DANCE. At the end of the day, all four of us got to play the “Just Dance” game on the PS3 at the office. We had quite the audience. Hopefully all of the dancing evidence is burned. ;) Rebecca took home the crown of “best Team NOLA dancer” and our sweaty sad attempt at dancing ended in the cutest team picture of all time.
  5. Long Term Project- So this is ACTUALLY the most exciting thing of the month- and the months to come! Our team is working on a website to help link individuals, especially youth, to medical care. Linkage to care is an incredibly important issue nationwide- but also in our own backyard. We want this website to be an important and holistic resource for someone who is newly diagnosed with HIV, who wants to get back into care, or who has just moved to NOLA and needs resources. Receiving an HIV-positive diagnosis can be overwhelming. We want this website to be not only informative, but also encouraging and personal. During the month of March, we presented the website to several committees and had countless meetings.
To Team NOLA, this website is at the core of our “Healthy Futures” month. We made sure it was mobile-friendly, understandable, and discreet. Although it is a work-in-progress, we hope this website empowers youth to take charge of their own health and even inspire their peers. Stay tuned for the website launch! We can’t wait to share it and get some feedback. :) Please excuse my incredibly long post this month. Healthy Futures month had us busy- but also I have troubling shutting up. If you have any questions -or just want to say hi to Team NOLA- our email is!


Posted By: Helene Kirschke-Schwartz, AIDS United AmeriCorps, Team New Orleans - Thursday, May 01, 2014

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