As part of my internship and through AmeriCorps, I get to hand out condoms and HIV testing information at local venues. On Fridays, I go with at least one volunteer to a local club and talk to people about HIV testing, local agencies that do testing, proper condom use, etc. It’s always fun, and the last time I went, some other SPH students joined in the fun!
An important part of the outreach activities is to make sure the interactions we have with people are informational and protect the anonymity of the clients. The state of Michigan’s Department of Community Health funds my agency (the HIV/AIDS Resource Center) to do outreach, and the state sets outreach goals for us each quarter. Outreach isn’t just handing out condoms – it needs to include a brief discussion about risk behavior and HIV testing if possible. Since these topics can be sensitive to discuss, it can be challenging to talk to someone about it, especially at a public venue like a dance club! We keep track of how many people we talk to about testing and risk behaviors so we can reach our goals each quarter.
More than once I’ve seen some professors from SPH at various bars while doing outreach. It makes sense, because they’re cool people and need to go out and have fun too! The first time I was really nervous, because I could see them looking over at me every so often. I kept thinking “my professors are witnessing me doing public health! Arghhh! I hope I don’t mess up!” It was a great confidence booster when they came over as I was leaving and said they were impressed that we were talking to so many people and that people looked like they were really listening.