BENEFITING: HEART TO HAND INC
The University of Maryland College Park. Megachurches. The most affluent, predominantly African American county in the nation. Prince George’s County, Maryland is known for all of these things. What most don’t know about Prince George’s county though, is that it has the second highest rate of HIV infection in the state after Baltimore, in a state ranked second in the U.S. for estimated AIDS cases in 2010. Currently, there is an estimated 7,000 residents unknowingly infected with HIV, with a high likelihood that these residents are black males between the ages of 20 and 29.
Unfortunately, little county support exists to combat this epidemic. As a result, Prince George’s County residents turn to Washington, DC to obtain readily available HIV services that are meant for District residents, individuals that have the highest HIV diagnosis rate in the country.
Its close proximity to the District of Columbia is one major reason why HIV cases continue to increase, but an even larger issue that perpetuates this epidemic is hidden in plain sight. Stigma. Those that have the virus live life silently, afraid of backlash from family, friends, and the community. Individuals seek services in the District, while the county is none the wiser as to the true magnitude of the problem. Poverty stricken residents fight to secure stable housing, put food on the table, and raise their families while keeping up with doctors’ visits and maintaining costly pharmaceutical regimens. The hardest hit age group, instead of growing themselves and advancing their futures, are struggling as young adults in a fast-changing society coping with the medical and social costs of a disease that no one wants to address.
In response, members of Heart to Hand, Inc. an HIV/AIDS outreach organization within the county, has taken on the task of creating a communal space for HIV+ individuals to find resources, acceptance and mutual understanding. P.A.C.E or Positive Attitudes Collectively Evolving is a newly-formed self-help social group, whose purpose is to engage county HIV+ persons in personal growth, community outreach/advocacy, and social activities. P.A.C.E. in partnership with Heart to Hand, Inc., will provide to its members HIV nonmedical case management, linkage and retention into care, as well as referral services where necessary. In exchange, P.A.C.E. members will gain continuing education in HIV as well as engage the community by sharing HIV knowledge and preventative measures among community residents. This effort will be the first of its kind within the county to address the HIV epidemic.
Although Project P.A.C.E. is a novel step in the right direction, more services will be needed in the future. Economic shifts in the District will drive residents to Prince George’s County, inevitably increasing the rate of HIV among community members while placing a strain on the few resources available.
To this end, P.A.C.E. has a long-term vision of creating a comprehensive drop-in center for HIV+ persons, the purpose of which is to help individuals remain in care by providing short term housing, meals, access to technology, and other supportive services.
I ask that you partner with me in fighting HIV and the stigma that helps perpetuate it by supporting Project P.A.C.E. in its effort to provide inclusion to its members and education to the community at large.
- Dominique Smith