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A Celebration Of Accomplishments, Goals

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. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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