ALL THAT “JAZZZ”

This post was written by our BSW Intern, Anita Peete

“Not to fear it. Try to understand it. Accept that it is among us. The best way to fight it is to come together.”

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While here at the Boston Living Center, one of my main goals is to get to know members on a collective level; but even more on a personal basis. In order to fulfill this goal I sat down with a member of the Living Center named Jazzz. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to get to know Mr. Jazzz, with an extra “Z”!

Jazzz is originally from Lewiston, Maine. He lived there until the age of 19. Jazzz has been a member of the Boston Living Center for the past 4 years. Although at first he wasn’t interested in coming to the Center, even after knowing so much about it; he came to the realization that it was “difficult to maintain the day to day routine.” He needed the support of those who fully understood what it means to live with this virus. No one understood what he was going through, so he came to the Center in order “to be in touch with the community. Those who were living with HIV.” Other ways that Jazzz works to maintain his life on a daily basis is through various hobbies. His hobbies include writing poetry and short stories, painting, being a member of the acting group. He also loves traveling, especially international travel. He has been to 5 different continents in his lifetime. He even had the opportunity to study in Mexico.

Just like the music, there are many levels to the person that is Jazzz. I discovered that he recently retired from teaching in the Boston Public Schools after teaching for 27 years. He taught everything from general education to Bilingual education. Yes! Bilingual education! Jazzz is fluent in Spanish! His best advice when learning Spanish is that you go to a Spanish speaking country and immerse yourself in the culture to learn the language.

Jazzz is a very vibrant and well-rounded individual. It was a pure joy to be able to sit down and get to know the wonderful soul that is Jazzz, with an extra “Z”! In closing, I asked Jazzz what he wants the world to know about HIV and those who live with it. His response was “Not to fear it. Try to understand it. Accept that it is among us. The best way to fight it is to come together.” Americans as a society has been known to come together in order to fight injustices, so it is important that we continue our fight against HIV, so that we can get to zero! It is because of the brave men and women, Like Jazzz, who share their stories that others are able to start to tear down the walls of stigma.

 

 

Welcome our new Bachelor’s in Social Work Intern!

Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.

                                                                                       -Soren Kierkegaard

Hello BLC! Please allow me to introduce myself, my name is Anita Peete. I am currently a student intern here at the Boston Living Center. I am in my last year of working towards obtaining my bachelor’s in Social work and as a part of that I have to complete a field placement.  So I decided to come to the Boston Living Center to complete it.

I am very passionate about the work I do around HIV/AIDS and I felt it would only be fitting for me to come to the Boston Living Center, the beacon of hope for those living with HIV. The Boston Living Center is a place of comfort and security for so many people. I have been warmly received by staff and members alike, which has been extremely helpful in the process. Thank you!

I am excited to be at the Boston Living Center and I look forward to witnessing the progress that will take place for individuals and the Boston Living Center as an agency. I look forward to growing and learning more about who I am as a student social worker as well as a person. I am sure that my time here will be filled with rewarding and memorable experiences. Thank you once again for the warm reception!

Anita Peete

BSW Student Intern

2015-2016

 

A Farewell from Julie

Written by BLC Intern Julie Lee

As I get ready to leave the Boston Living Center, I wanted to reflect on some of the experiences I’ve had here and what I’ve learned. I can’t believe it’s already my last week here. I remember my first time walking through those large front doors – I was incredibly nervous because this was my first time doing an internship like this. I was new to Boston, and new to the BLC, and I had no idea what to expect. But I now realize that I had nothing to worry about. I felt truly welcomed that first day, and the members and staff have been so friendly to me every day that I’ve been here.

I’m glad that my internship had elements of direct interaction with members and also some work behind the scenes because it allowed me to do a variety of work. I really think that every conversation I had with a member, no matter how short, helped strengthen my ability to communicate with others and to just be a more pleasant person to be around. I enjoyed participating in the walking group, serving lunch on Tuesdays, and facilitating Game Day! I also really liked attending groups – Chat B4 Dinner and Bridges on Wednesdays – there was a real atmosphere of support every time we all gathered in the library, through the somber moments and through the joyous ones. I remember being ecstatic the first time I got to check in about my week, and I felt supported by everyone in the room.

I’ve learned a lot about HIV/AIDS – way more than I could have learned in any classroom at Dartmouth. I’ve learned about different types of government assistance programs that exist, like housing and food stamps. I’ve learned about HIV medications, healthcare organizations around Massachusetts, and healthcare policies. But beyond facts, I’ve learned some skills as well – through changing the bulletin boards every other week, I learned how to be a better researcher. I learned how to talk to people with different experiences than my own. I learned that even though we might have different priorities, or be busy, we all love a good game of dominoes.

I want to thank everyone who’s contributed to my experience here, even if it was just saying hello. Having grown up in a large city, I wasn’t used to saying hello to everyone I saw or even acknowledging their presence. Saying hello to everyone I saw in the BLC came naturally, though, because it’s clear that we’re here to support one another, and we care. Thank you for teaching me how important support systems are, and making a difference in my life. I hope that I was able to do the same, or at least brighten some of your days.

Thank you and best wishes,
Julie

What Do People Know About HIV/AIDS?

Written by BLC intern Julie Lee

For this blog post, I thought I’d survey my friends on what they know about HIV/AIDS. To give some insight into their perspectives, their ages range from 18-22 and all are currently attending or planning on attending college. I asked four questions:

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  1. How many people do you think there are living with HIV in the U.S.?

Responses ranged from 500,000 to 1.5 million. The CDC estimates that around 1.2 million people are living with HIV, so the responses were pretty accurate. I was personally a little surprised at this – if I had been asked this question before starting my internship, I don’t think I would have had any idea.

  1. What do you think the life expectancy of someone living with HIV in the U.S. is?

Responses for this question varied widely. One responder estimated the life expectancy of someone living with HIV to be 3-4 years after contracting HIV. Another estimated 35 years. This suggests that they might have been confusing HIV with AIDS; this surprised me. I thought that my friends would definitely know the difference between HIV and AIDS – maybe not the CDC-defined CD4 cell count threshold, but that AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. Other responses included age 60, age 75, and almost the same as that of the general population with treatment, which is actually the correct answer. With ART, the average lifespan of someone living with HIV is around their early 70s, compared to 78 for the general population. Additionally, “life expectancy was lower for individuals with a history of injection drug use, non-whites, and in patients with baseline CD4 counts <350 cells/mm3.”[1]

  1. Are there certain populations more at risk of HIV infection?

Two respondents suggested racial/ethnic differences, answering that Blacks/African-Americans were more likely to be infected with HIV. According to the CDC, Blacks/African-Americans experience the “most severe burden of HIV” – they are incredibly disproportionately affected.[2] Two responders suggested that the LGBT population is more at risk, which is also true. The CDC states that “gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) of all races and ethnicities remain the population most profoundly affected by HIV.” Transgender people are also likely to be disproportionately affected, although there are a number of barriers to accurate data collection on transgender people[3]. Another respondent suggested that drug users were more at risk. According to the CDC, injection drug users represented 14% of those living with HIV in 2011. Responses accurately reflected information published by the CDC.

  1. How do you contract HIV? What are the ways in which you can prevent contracting HIV?

All respondents suggested using condoms as a way to prevent HIV infection. Other responses included using clean needles and avoiding contact with bodily fluids (“blood, semen, breastmilk, etc.”) of someone who is HIV positive. It was unsurprising to me that they knew that day-to-day contact, such as shaking hands or kissing, is not a method of transmission. It was also unsurprising to me that none of them mentioned PrEP as a way of prevention. Coming into this internship, I was not aware that PrEP existed, and I expected my friends to also be unaware.

I would say that the responses above are pretty similar to what I knew about HIV/AIDS before I started my internship at the BLC. I remember feeling like I had learned a lot at the end of my first day here, after I had finished reading up on CDC factsheets and the National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States. While reading, I had to look up many terms used in the factsheets: engagement in care, retention in care, viral suppression. I knew that medications to help with HIV existed, but I didn’t know that it was called ART and I certainly didn’t know how it worked. I didn’t know that such large disparities existed among different populations with respect to HIV infection risk. I also didn’t know that there were commonly co-occurring diseases, such as HCV, that makes treatment that much more difficult.

Since that first day, I’ve gotten the opportunity to do more research on topics like women’s health and HIV, HIV criminalization, and cardiovascular disease with relation to HIV. However, I think that my most valuable takeaway has been – not the facts I’ve come to know or the research I’ve done – but learning how to communicate effectively. Every conversation I’ve had here, no matter how short, has been a lesson in supporting others and has made me feel supported and appreciated. Through my time at the BLC, I have come to fully believe in the power of community and support.

[1] http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0081355

[2] http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/basics/ataglance.html

[3] http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/group/gender/transgender/index.html

Teaching and learning about the BLC

Hi! Caitlin here, the BLC’s Prevention and Education Specialist. I asked our summer intern, Julie, to reflect on an assignment that she had to complete as part of her internship – Julie recently hosted a seminar for her cohort here at the BLC and presented to them on what we do here. I asked Julie to tell us about it.

Here is what I asked: Post about your experience having your seminar at the BLC – what did you present to your cohort? What were your peers’ reactions to the BLC? What did they learn? What did you learn?

By Julie Lee, BLC Intern

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Each week during my summer internship through the Boston Community Health Program, the other students in my cohort and I gather for a seminar at one of the internship sites. During these seminars, two students present on the agencies where they are interning for the summer and educate the rest of the cohort on what they are learning and how they are contributing. Last week, the BLC hosted the 7 other students in my program. I gave a presentation about the state of HIV/AIDS in the U.S., about what we’re doing at the BLC, and a little about my experiences here so far. Thank you to Morrigan for staying late to host us!

While I was working on the first part of my presentation – about the state of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. – I realized a couple of things. I realized that I had learned a lot in the short time I have been here about HIV/AIDS – about the history of the epidemic, of the way it disproportionately affects certain populations, what T-cells or CD4 cells are, what antiretroviral medications are, and what terms like “virally suppressed” and “engaged in care” or “retained in care” mean. I also realized that I really had no idea what my fellow interns knew and hadn’t known about HIV. Looking back on it, I wish I had given them a questionnaire beforehand so I could gauge how much they knew. Having been born after the epidemic came about, I assumed they knew basic facts about how HIV affects the immune system and how it is transmitted from person to person, but my guess is that they didn’t know very much about the populations most affected.

My peer students were very engaged in my presentation about the BLC and asked some very insightful questions. Some of the questions were ones that I didn’t fully have the answers to, such as why exactly HIV affects certain populations so disproportionately, and what holistic care – which is something we promote at the BLC – really means. So I was thankful that Morrigan was there, because she was able to answer questions that I couldn’t. It turns out that holistic care looks at the patient “as a whole,” or as a person with physical, spiritual, psychological, and social aspects of their lives. I found myself learning new things even while I was giving my own presentation!

I think that my fellow interns learned a lot about HIV/AIDS from both me and Morrigan. But I hope that they also considered how complex caring for someone can be when the illness can’t be treated by one operation but rather requires someone to adhere to daily medication regimens – especially when that person has a lot of other things they’re struggling with such as homelessness, substance abuse, or food insecurity. I also hope that walking into this building and seeing the dining room, library, art studio, etc., made them realize how helpful a caring and supportive community can be. I’m glad that I was given the opportunity to share with my peers a bit of the amazing things that happen here at the BLC, and I’m glad that I was given the opportunity to contribute.