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Posted on November 22, 2011 by Lance Hicks
About the blogger: Lance Hicks is AFG’s new AmeriCorps AIDS United Team Detroit member. Lance is serving as Safe Choices Program Assistant. Safe Choices works with women on the streets who are involved in commercial sex work, connecting them to resources and helping them to make positive choices.
While it seems everyone around me has begun preparing for another year’s close, the turn of the season feels much more like a beginning than an end, for me. What makes my experience, this year, so different from that of those around me? For starters, this season marks the beginning of my service as a member of AmeriCorps AIDS United Team Detroit.
For those who don’t know the lingo, AmeriCorps is a national organization that places community members alongside agencies and individuals working to provide valuable services to people across the country. There’s a seemingly endless list programs affiliated with AmeriCorps, and AIDS United is one of them. Dedicated to the struggle against HIV, AIDS United places full-time program members in locally-based community agencies, where we can provide hands-on support to those people most affected by the pandemic.
As a life-long Detroiter with a passion for HIV and AIDS advocacy work, joining AIDS United was not a difficult decision for me to make. Being both African American and Transgender—two of the highest-risk demographic populations for HIV/AIDS—this work is personal to me. It’s a struggle I’ve been actively engaged in since my early teens, and I’ve known for years that I needed to find a way to make it a full-time commitment.
As excited as I was about the chance to do HIV/AIDS work full time, I admit I was a little bit nervous. The process of determining the agency that would become my “home base” for the coming year seemed daunting, and I knew that finding the right match would be crucial to my service. The list of potential host agencies was filled with organizations I knew and respected—but it’s one thing to admire from afar, and another to plunge right in. When I was ultimately selected to be the AmeriCorps member at Alternatives for Girls, this head-first dive was exactly what I got. Lucky for me, it turned out to be the perfect fit.
Through the AmeriCorps AIDS United program, I was told I would be placed within the Outreach and Education Services department. In my interview with Safe Choices Manager Alana Gracey, I learned that my role would be to act as the Safe Choices Program Assistant. Although my responsibilities would change from day to day, my primary role would be to provide support for Safe Choices outreach shifts, making connections on the street with women involved in the commercial sex industry; and the New Choices Project, which supports women in achieving their self-identified goal of exiting the commercial sex industry.
Walking in to the building for my first day of work, I had the usual new-job jitters, unsure of what to expect. To my pleasant surprise, the initial butterflies had settled within moments. The first thing that struck me about the OES team was how genuinely warm everyone was. As I moved through my first day, learning about Alternatives for Girls’ history, the ins and outs of the OES department, and getting a head start on my work, each staff member took time out to welcome me to the team.
From those first conversations, I was soon to engage in countless follow-up discussions with co-workers across the department, getting to know everyone individually. When I first started work here, there were more than a few Outreach team members who gently pulled me to the side, checking in to make sure I was feeling comfortable. Department members joked that Outreach and Educational Services is a “very open” environment—a euphemism for the fact that OES tells it like it is. Because our department is dedicated to dealing with issues that most people are afraid to confront—things like the commercial sex industry, drug use, and other stigmatized topics—being frank is how we roll. Ironically, it was the quality my co-workers feared could alienate me from the team that put me most at ease. Since Outreach addresses real issues in the lives of girls and women, knowing that having real conversations is the status quo reassures me that this department is truly doing its job.
Perhaps my favorite thing about the team is how totally unique each member is. As my first days at AFG quickly became my first weeks, the individual personalities of each Outreach staff member became clear. Filled with spunk (and plenty of opinions), the folks who make up AFG’s outreach department know their stuff; but even more important, they never lose sight of the mission that brings us all together. Compassion and drive are important qualities in any workplace—but here, they are essential. The stories our participants tell us, and the experiences they’ve overcome, are often hard to hear; so it takes energy and an earnest investment in the work we do, to avoid burning out. The women and girls we’re here for have entrusted us with a great deal; so if we’re about the business of serving them, we have a duty to earn their respect. I’m happy to say, from the perspective of a newbie, that it seems like the Outreach Program at Alternatives for Girls is committed to doing just that.