Cheryl Potts on Women’s Radio Network

Earlier this morning our executive director Cheryl Potts made an appearance on WRNW1, Women’s Radio Network. Lisa Singer interviewed Cheryl about the work we do at Alexian Brothers Housing and Health Alliance and what drew her to the organization. Cheryl said that she committed to working in the HIV community many years ago because it struck her as the “biggest social justice issue of our time.”

Lisa asked Cheryl about the challenges facing this community today. “We’re still seeing a lot of stigma and discrimination towards people who are HIV-positive,” Cheryl observed. This is a particularly big problem because it also stops people from seeking treatment. Though having HIV doesn’t need to substantially reduce life expectancy, it will if stigma keeps people from seeing a doctor and starting medication.

Another obstacle Cheryl spoke about was misinformation. “While there’s a lot of information out there, there’s also a lot of misinformation,” she said. A lot of this is from outdated impressions of what having HIV is like that are based on how things were decades ago. People still assume HIV requires handfuls of pills to manage and causes severe side effects, but today many people just take one pill a day with minimal effects on their daily lives.

Of course Cheryl also spoke about how our work fits into this. At the Housing and Health Alliance, we primarily serve people who are homeless and have HIV. “Providing a home is first and foremost as far as treating the needs of people who are coming in,” Cheryl explained. We then build on this base to address physical health and mental health, and then we start helping people work towards their life goals, like returning to school or the workforce.

A Day On, Not A Day Off

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I’m doing a year of national service with Alexian Brothers Housing and Health Alliance through the AmeriCorps VISTA program. AmeriCorps asks all its members to spend Martin Luther King Day serving their communities, making it “a day on, not a day off.”

There are three AmeriCorps members currently working as part of the team here at the Housing and Health Alliance. Each of us chose a different project to join for MLK Day. Simone, our volunteer and outreach coordinator at Bettendorf Place, highlighted her experience at a youth literary fair in a post last week. Melanie, our aftercare program coordinator, worked with a group painting murals at a Chicago school.

I joined Y.O.U. (Youth Organizations Umbrella) in Evanston for their annual Diverse Communities United celebration. The event commemorates the dream and legacy of Dr. King through song, dance, theater, and speeches. Students of all ages from a number of Evanston and Skokie schools joined the event, which was free for the community to attend.

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ABHHA Receives Prestigious Program Award

Cheryl Potts, Executive Director of the Alexian Brothers Housing and Health Alliance accepted the prestigious Program Award on behalf of ABHHA at last week’s Ascension Convocation held in Nashville. The Living the Mission and Values Awards were presented in three categories and were established to recognize and honor people and programs recommended by associates. They were created with the understanding that living the Mission and Values is not the exception, but the norm throughout Ascension. Each nominee is recognized as one who demonstrates an extraordinary way to live the Mission and Values; inspires others to live the Mission and Values by support, encouragement and challenges; and acts to enhance overall organizational commitment to living the Mission and Values. View the inspirational Program Award video about ABHHA shown at Convocation below.

At the Chicago National AIDS Policy Listening Session

This summer the White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy is leading a number of regional listening sessions across the country. These sessions are a chance for officials to present information and get feedback on the implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and the HIV Care Continuum Initiative. I was pleased to attend the session in Chicago this Tuesday.

Tuesday’s presentation covered the state of HIV/AIDS and current initiatives on a national, state, and local level. Speakers included Congressman Danny Davis, a panel from local organizations, and representatives from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Illinois and Chicago Departments of Public Health, and the Office of National AIDS Policy.

Our executive director, Cheryl Potts, was part of the local panel. She was representing both Alexian Brothers Housing and Health Alliance and the Chicago Area HIV Integrated Services Council. Integrating services through the continuum of prevention, testing, linkage to care, and retention was a theme of both her comments and the full session.

Speakers also talked about changes coming from the Affordable Care Act and spoke about groups that are most affected by HIV, like injection drug users and men who have sex with men, particularly young black men. While speakers acknowledged many challenges, they also expressed a lot of optimism about strategies to treat and prevent HIV and AIDS.

Two presenters found it worthwhile to read the vision statement of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy aloud: “The United States will become a place where new HIV infections are rare and when they do occur, every person, regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or socio-economic circumstance, will have unfettered access to high quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination.”

If you’re curious to learn more, you can visit the Office of National AIDS Policy website or read the National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States.

Support Us In The 2014 AIDS Run & Walk!

We’ll be running and walking this September to promote HIV awareness and raise funds for our services—and we want your help!

The Chicago AIDS Run & Walk is an annual event organized by the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. Founded in 1985, AFC’s mission is “to lead the fight against HIV/AIDS and improve the lives of people affected by the epidemic.” They do this by working with community organizations to coordinate prevention and care, develop services, and promote advocacy and policy.

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At the annual AIDS Run & Walk, local organizations and individuals draw public attention to HIV and AIDS, highlight programs working in these areas, and ask community members for support to help this work continue. Just being present in the public also helps fight stigma around HIV. Alexian Brothers Housing and Health Alliance is one of the many organizations participating in this year’s event, and we’d like you to be a part too.

There are two ways you can be involved: you can join our team, or make a donation. And you do either of those things online today!

Join Our Team: Anyone who’d like to run or walk with us during the event can join our team. You can register to run either a 5k or 10k for $40, or register as a walker for $30. These fees include runner/walker bibs and shirts. You’ll also get access to a personal fundraising center on the AIDS Run & Walk site, so other people can donate to the cause in your name.

Donate: Whether or not you want to want to participate in the event yourself, you can also make a donation to the cause. Alexian Brothers Housing and Health Alliance is one of AFC’s Community Direct partners, so 90% of the funds we raise come directly back to support our programs, which serve people with HIV every day. Last year we raised over $12,000. This year our goal is $15,000.

All the proceeds from the AIDS Run & Walk benefit the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and other Community Direct partners. In 2013, the event raised almost half a million dollars.

Ready to help? You can find our team ‘The Alliance’ at AidsRunWalk.org.

Register to run or walk here.

Donate to the cause here.

This year’s AIDS Run & Walk is Sunday, September 14 in Grant Park’s Arvey Field. We hope to see you there.

Celebrating Our Founders, Past, and Future

This past Saturday, June 21st, 2014, we celebrated Founder’s Day at Alexian Brothers Bonaventure House. This year marks the 25th anniversary of Bonaventure House, the first of our three sites.

We celebrated the event with food, music, and a handful of speeches. Our executive director, Cheryl Potts, welcomed everyone to the event. Brother Tom Klein offered a prayer over the meal, and our spiritual care coordinator, Bridget Purdome, shared some reflections with all of us on finding the valuable things in life that are often simply overlooked.

We were most thankful that guest Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board President, offered a few words reflecting on the decades of work done since the AIDS crisis began, the progress that’s been made, and the vital work around HIV that continues now. Current and former residents also spoke, sharing their struggles and highlighting the difference that Bonaventure House has made for them.

We gave out three awards to honor those who have supported Alexian Brothers Housing and Health Alliance. The Alexian Award of Excellence was given to the Ignatian Spirituality Group, which has offered powerful retreat experiences to our residents, staff, and interns. The President’s Award was given to Monika High of the Heartland Alliance, who has been a dedicated advocate for clients in our Community Housing program. And the Volunteer Service Award was given to Laura Howard, who has worked with our spiritual care team to lead groups, mentor interns, and support residents one-on-one.

On this 25th anniversary, we look back at our past and look forward to our future. We’re proud that the Alexian Brothers stepped up to provide care for those with AIDS when others hesitated. We’re proud that we’ve been able to expand our organization with The Harbor in Waukegan and Betterndorf Place on the south side of Chicago. We’re proud too that our Community Housing program, working with landlords to provide affordable housing throughout the Chicago area, continues to grow rapidly.

Thank you to everyone who came out and made the event this weekend a success, and thank you to everyone who has made Alexian Brothers Housing and Health Alliance a success for the past 25 years. We’re excited about the next 25.

MLK Day 2014

(written by Theresa Majeski)

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“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” –  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr Day is advertised as a “day on, not a day off” but what does that really mean?  The MLK Day of Service is part of the President’s national call to service to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, create solutions to social problems, and move us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community”.

Liz, myself, and the other AmeriCorps members of AIDS United Team Chicago spent MLK Day, January 20th, 2013, volunteering in Highland Park, IL.  The event brought together area organizations which offered activities for adults and children to participant in as a way to give back to the community.  Some activities included making bags of toiletry items for homeless individuals, donating and sorting food donations for local pantries, making valentines for our soldiers overseas, and making dog toys and dog blankets.  We also had the privilege of hearing Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White speak about what MLK Day means to him, about his experiences working side by side with MLK Jr. and other civil rights leaders, and the importance of giving back to your community.  Participants also had the opportunity to learn more about 1st amendment rights by visiting the McCormick Foundation’s Freedom Express Museum.  It was wonderful to be part of such a large and varied event offering participants many different ways to make a difference in their community to celebrate MLK’s legacy.

More information from the day’s events can be found here.

“The time is always right to do what is right.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.