I'm hoping to raise $5,000 to support Henry Street Settlement's PROJECT PROTECT program. Project Protect is designed to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS among young men of color (age 16-24) who have sex with other men. There has been a disturbing rise in infections among this population, and our program seeks to provide street outreach, peer education and testing, and also break economic depedence on partners who do not practice safe sex. To break economic dependency, we connect the young men to a range of educational, counseling, and employment opportunities intended to help them achieve long-term success.
Henry Street Settlement is a premier non-profit organization located in the Lower East Side. Founded in 1893, Henry Street has been a leading social innovator for well over 100 years, and today continues to be a leader in youth and educational services, employment services, health care, senior services, shelter and supportive housing, and the arts. Henry Street placed the first nurse in a public school, created the first public playground, opened the first apartment-style shelter for homeless families, created the first supportive housing for New Yorkers with HIV/AIDS and their families, and we were first responders after 9.11 and Hurricane Sandy. We now serve over 50,000 New Yorkers each year through our programs.
Eddie, like so many others, came to New York to follow his dreams. He wanted to be a dancer, and though he lacked the support of his family, he wasn’t going to let anything stand in his way. He obtained a low-paying retail job just to pay the bills and spent all his free time in the studio, honing his craft. However, within months Eddie had lost his job and his only source of income, making it impossible to afford rent and leaving him without a home.
For the next four months Eddie wondered every night where he would sleep. On the good nights, he crashed on a friend’s couch. Other nights, he wandered the streets, sometimes dozing at McDonalds or the dance studio where he once took classes. Discouraged and depressed, Eddie found his way to Outstanding Beautiful Brothers at GMHC where he learned about Project PROTECT at the Henry Street Settlement. When he learned about the work that Project PROTECT was doing, he knew he wanted to participate, “I wanted to be an example of change for someone in our community.”
Once hired as a Peer Advisor, Eddie was able to use the money from his internship to rent a room. With the support of Project PROTECT and the stability of a place to stay, he was soon able to find an additional part-time job. In the following months, working with PROTECT, Eddie was able to apply to college and was accepted at BMCC where he will begin studies this month.
Looking back at his experience with Project PROTECT Eddie says, “It helped me take my life to the next step for what I want to do; having a support system empowered me to go back to school and work toward stability. I want more for myself than to work a dead-end job; I want to feel fulfilled.” Eddie plans to complete his Associate’s Degree in two years and transfer to a Bachelor’s program. After he graduates, Eddie hopes to work in non-profit where he thinks he will be able to make a big difference and, “be a part of the decision-making process.” When asked about what message he would give to other young people, he says, “It is possible to change your destiny.”