AIDS Foundation Houston (AFH) is currently in its second year of Project H.E.L.P (HIV, Education, Learning and PrEP), a partnership with AFH and the University of Houston’s Honors College Biomedical Sciences Department. The project focuses on utilizing HIV/AIDS information and resources in underserved areas of Houston with a high HIV prevalence. An essential element of this collaboration is the recruitment, development, and hiring of community members trained as Community Health Workers (CHW) of Houston’s Cuney Homes and Third Ward communities. Cuney Homes and Third Ward are two communities within greater Houston with a high STI and HIV prevalence. Additionally, education and HIV/PrEP resources are hindered in these communities.
AFH collaborated with the National Library of Medicine (NLM) to provide training to staff on HIV/AIDS resources. Through the partnership, AFH has been able to hire a total of ten CHW over the last two years. AFH’s partnership with NLM supports AFH’s mission to lead the innovate effort in the prevention of new HIV infections and empower individuals, families, and communities affected by HIV/AIDS to create and sustain healthy lives. The NLM website is a valuable resource for high quality, easy to read content for social media distribution. The NLM Resource training allowed staff to learn about NLM’s available websites, infographics, and social media visuals for information sharing. AFH’s goal has been to build self –efficacy, and leadership among the CHWs by partnering the CHWs with AFH’s prevention and outreach team. This team collaboration focuses on creating a peer to peer mentorship and learning environment during office training and community outreach and testing.
In October 2018, the University of Houston’s Honors College Biomedical Sciences Department, Dr. Daniel Price approached AFH in collaborating to create a Peer Lead for the CHW program last year of implementation. Dr. Price suggested Thea McGee – Jackson, CHW from year one, second-tier CHW staff. Thea demonstrated excellent team leadership and often provided feedback to the program coordinator about the team dynamics and lessons learned in the field during outreach. Thea accepted the CHW Lead position and has provided training to new CHWs and a direct line of communication with AFH staff while advising of identified testing site requested by the communities in which we serve. With an increase in paperwork, data entry assistance, and PrEP information updates, Thea shared that her biggest benefit has been utilizing the NLM website as a valued community resource. Additionally, she shared that although she understood before in her previous role as a CHW, she now understands the purpose of data reporting and why the information shared is important. Lastly, she shared that she has noticed that individuals in the Cuney homes community now approach her more about resources because of her visibility in the program and the community recognizes her as a leader.
Cuney Homes resident counsel treasurer, Lead CHW for Project H.E.L.P., and community resource, Thea has elevated her professional experience and looks forward to more opportunities that will be provided along her journey. Thea shared, “Working with different types of people of color that are at risk and infected with HIV has broadened my world. I love working with people and ensuring they have the information they need to decrease transmission, this makes my day. If you know better you do better.” AFH is encouraged by this opportunity to provide leadership and development within this community-driven program.
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