March 24, 2006
By MELISSA PIONZIO, Courant Staff Writer
Latinos/as Contra SIDA, a Hartford-based
community services agency that provides care and services to people
with HIV/AIDS, celebrated its 20th anniversary Thursday with the
announcement of a new name and a new project that will expand its
outreach to families in need.
During the celebration at the agency's
office, at 184 Wethersfield Ave., the group's founders mingled with
the director and board members over sangria and live guitar music
as they recalled the agency's humble beginnings, accomplishments
and future goals.
"We used to meet at people's houses,
in their apartments," said Ramon Rojano, director of the city's
human health services department, and an original board member.
"It's been a labor of love."
Now known as Latino Community Services,
the organization will continue to provide those with HIV/AIDS, specifically
Latinos, with confidential counseling, testing and referrals, prevention
workshops, transportation to medical appointments, mental and support
services, along with community awareness and education events.
"It is in our opinion that the
services we provide are very much needed in the Latino community,"
said Cesar Mejia, vice president of the board of directors. "We
want to be sure that AIDS and its related effects are not overlooked."
Through its new Healthy Latino Families
and Communities program, a federally funded initiative, LCS plans
to work with faith- and community-based organizations that serve
Latino families throughout Connecticut, to strengthen existing services
and develop new programs in the areas of HIV prevention and care
and substance abuse-related issues.
"Some of the things we do, we
might be targeting the same community, it's like preaching to the
choir," said LCS Executive Director Edna M. Berastain. "Having
faith leaders speaking to the message of prevention is very helpful.
There is so much stigma related to HIV, and it can break down the
structure of the family."
Clara Acosta-Glynn was a social worker
with the Visiting Nurses Association when she and others concerned
about the effects of HIV/AIDS formed the agency in 1986. What really
got her thinking about doing it, she said, was a gay Latino client,
sick with AIDS, who came to her for treatment.
"It was a horrible time, he was
so discriminated against ... no family or anything," she said.
"We became his family. It really inspired us to get something
done because there was so much suffering."
Those first years were exciting, she
said, because there was so much outreach going on directly in the
community, with the people who needed the help the most, said Acosta-Glynn.
"I'm very proud. They have done
a terrific job. It has become a healer in the community," she
said of LCS. "As a city and a state, I feel there is less outreach
in the community being done in the way of prevention ... there is
a growing number of Latino women who are getting sick. We need to
expand services and get back out into the streets."
After the speeches and announcements,
and proclamations given by Mayor Eddie Perez and a representative
of the governor, several clients shared their experiences and thanked
LCS and its staff.
"I was shocked and then panicked
because there is such a stigma in the Latino community about AIDS
... my family still doesn't know," Norberto, who wanted to
remain anonymous, said about discovering he had AIDS in 2004. "Here,
I was able to discuss all my concerns ... they say that actions
speak louder than words, that should be LCS' motto."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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