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10/2008 RVCC's HIV Project Hosts Community Health Fair

RVCC’s HIV Project hosted a community health fair at their 207 Elm Street site.  The event was held on Tuesday, October 14, 2008 in recognition of National Latino AIDS Awareness Day from 10AM -2PM.  October 15 is National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD).  The day marks an opportunity to increase awareness of the devastating and disproportionate effects of AIDS in the Latino community. NLAAD is also a day to encourage HIV testing and gain support from public officials and religious leaders. More than 40% of Holyoke’s population is Latino. According to recent Massachusetts HIV/AIDS Surveillance Program report, Holyoke has the 2nd highest rate in the Commonwealth.

Hispanics/Latinos represent only 15% of the total U.S. population but make up 18% of new HIV infections. Among Latinos, men make up the vast majority of new HIV infections (76%), but Latino women are also at disproportionate risk for HIV. They are infected with HIV at a rate four times greater than white women. 

The event was planned to create a forum for Holyoke residents highlighting the realities of HIV in Holyoke.  As with events all around the country, RVCC’s health fair was planned and organized by a coalition of community-based agencies, residents, consumers, peers and RVCC staff.   Over eleven local agencies participated by having staff and materials available to answer questions and provide HIV education.  The Mobile Health Initiative Testing Van owned and operated by Tapestry Health Systems  was parked on the grounds and tested over twenty-five individuals using the rapid testing method; test results are known within 30 minutes.

Gently used clothing was donated by The Survivor Center of Indian Orchard for those in need.  A hot lunch was provided thanks to consumers and residents of the surrounding neighborhood.  Local area businesses including The Apothecary, Frank’s Check Cashing, Tony’s Barber Shop and Insavia of Springfield and Bacon and Wilson of Northampton donated services by providing gift certificates for raffle prizes.  Their generosity, dedication and commitment to the community helped make the event a great success.  

In addition to clowns and face painting, an art exhibit displaying the works of local residents and consumers drew much attention.  The exhibit had representation from all disciplines including painting, poetry, hand crafts, jewelry, pottery and photography.    As a special part of the art exhibit, there was a tree decorated with personal quotes from attendees expressing their personal growth, hopes and dreams.

One woman who read poetry she had written said she came, “to learn about different things I don’t already know about my health.” Another individual disclose he was HIV+ and said, “I’m here because I need to be.  It is good to educate the community about HIV and HepC.”