I think anyone would agree that walking through the 4th floor offices after 5pm is a very different experience than just a few months ago. Instead of hearing the typing on keyboards and voices of conference calls, you hear the newest jam on the radio, questions yelled between offices, and laughter. CHAT (Curbing HIV/AIDS Transmission among at-risk youth), a peer to peer HIV prevention program, is housed in the Prevention Department. A referral based program, CHAT addresses the increased rate of HIV among African-American youth between the ages of 13-19, that are faced with challenges such as coming out of the juvenile justice system, homelessness, and addiction. The biggest challenge thus far has been breaking misconceptions around HIV transmission and perception of risk. As one of our peer workers, Courtney Jacks put it so simply during a conversation with one of her peers, “You don’t catch AIDS, it’s a process, baby”. That’s not the only process we’re talking about in the CHAT offices; the program has been through a process of its own: transitioning from the office to being more visible in the community, CHAT participates in routine outreach, deliver messages through multi-media (music, art, skits, videos, and poetry), and conduct educational workshops, it has been quite the journey.
NO/AIDS Task Force is one of ten recipients around the country to receive the three-year grant through the Office of Minority Health. The only organization to receive the grant in the Gulf South, the program has its work cut out for itself. As of 2013, New Orleans is ranked number three in the nation for highest rate of HIV and Baton Rouge is number two. In order to make the work effective there are three components to the project: peer to peer education, new media/arts, and partnerships. While the project is driven by the peer workers and the new media they create, partnerships also play a critical role in the success of the project. Partnerships aren’t merely agreements of a share of resource between organizations – more important it is that we’re all working for a common need and what one organization lacks another organization supplements to reach that need. A Maori Village woman spoke of movement building eloquently, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then we can work together”. CHAT is partnered with community organizations already working within this population in one form or another in order to align ourselves with a common interest, providing resources to the youth of New Orleans. Our partnerships include: Tulane School of Adolescent Medicine, Odyssey House Academy, Youth Empowerment Project/NOPLAY, Brotherhood Inc., Liberty Kitchen, Connect to Protect, Community Book Store, and Green Corps.