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Return to Project K.I.S.S.: Promoting Prevention of HIV/AIDS Among Youth Overview

More on Project K.I.S.S.: Promoting Prevention of HIV/AIDS Among Youth

Project K.I.S.S.: Promoting Prevention of HIV/AIDS Among Youth

New York, NY (Nov 24, 2009)

According to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), by the end of 2006, an estimated 56,500 young people ages 13 to 24, were living with HIV infection or AIDS in the United States. Approximately 19,200 adolescents and young adults ages 13 to 29 were newly infected with HIV during 2006, which represents 34 percent increase of all new HIV infections that year. It is estimated that more than half of the adolescents who are infected with HIV are unaware of their diagnosis.

HIV infection is a persistent and important issue for youth, especially those of minority races and ethnicities. The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance conducted by the CDC in 2007 shows that many individuals begin having sexual intercourse at early ages: 47 percent of high school students have had sexual intercourse, and 7.4 percent of them reported first sexual intercourse before age 13, yet a large proportion of young people are not concerned about becoming infected with HIV.

Many programs have been developed to educate adolescents with age-appropriate messages. Among them is Project K.I.S.S. - an HIV/AIDS prevention initiative developed by the Komanksy Center for Children's Health at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center for teens and young adults between the ages of 13 and 24 living in New York City and adjacent boroughs. Project K.I.S.S., an acronym for: know your status, inform your partners and stay safe, aims to address the HIV prevention needs of youth, according to Program Director Jacquel Clemons. The adolescent HIV prevention initiative is funded by the Ryan White Care Act to provide HIV counseling and testing, as well as outreach to encourage those who are infected to obtain care. HIV testing is performed with OraQuick Rapid HIV Test using oral fluid so that individuals are able to receive test results within 20 minutes. While waiting for the results, K.I.S.S. peer advocates have conversations with them about prevention.

"It is also a priority of ours to continue to create trust and safety with at-risk youth in New York and to try to get them to be engaged around HIV counseling testing and HIV health education," emphasized Ms. Clemons. "We don't approach HIV from just a clinical or informational standpoint. Our mission, our workshops, and everything we do is about youth empowerment and trying to deal with some structural issues that come up for them. We don't just say 'here's the information and this is what you do with it.' We ask youth to have a candid conversation with us regarding their risk factors, instead of telling them the risk factors for HIV. During that conversation with them, we help them find solutions on how to avoid getting the virus."

Project K.I.S.S. offers an alternative approach to community outreach by using social networking, and social utilities, such as Facebook and My Space, to engage young people. In addition, K.I.S.S. hosts a series of workshops throughout New York City, led by the project's health educator, Vanessa Ramalho. "By the end of those workshops, participants are usually saying, 'Test me, test my friends, test my family members,'" added Ms. Clemons. The health education workshops reach some 1,000 kids and teens a year.

Fashion Show Traces Evolution of AIDS

On August 29th, as part of its youth outreach initiative, Project K.I.S.S. held a fashion show called Evolution of the Silent Killer. The event was suggested by adolescents that work with the program as peer advocates. They provided Ms. Clemons with youth-friendly ideas, concepts and logos. About 25 young people participated in its planning and implementation, and 130 people attended throughout the night from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

"It basically was a conceptual fashion show where the goal was to provide a visual story on the progression of HIV in communities of color," describes Ms. Clemons. In order to make it all come together, Ms. Clemons approached her friend, Pamela Shepard, a "very talented fashion stylist." A committee of youth from a variety of organizations, such as the Adolescent AIDS Program at Montefiore, The HEAT-Health Education Alternatives for Teens in Brooklyn, Young Women of Color HIV/AIDS Coalition, and K.I.S.S. formed to plan and execute the fashion show; all details of the show were their ideas and work in action.

According to Ms. Clemons, each segment of the fashion show told a different story of how HIV evolved over the past few centuries. The first scene was about the early years of the virus' spread, so the stylist and youth decided that the fashions modeled would be sterile-looking clothespastels and clean designs. The second segment was entitled G.R.I.D.( Gay-related immune deficiency), calling attention to how HIV was once thought to be a homosexual-only disease. This notion was dispelled when Ryan White, the teenager from Indiana, was expelled from school after contracting HIV from a contaminated blood treatment. The fashions in this segment included males wearing all black, with their faces covered by a mask of Ryan White. The final model in the segment was a woman. "Ryan was really the person who made the government respond to HIV, and it was because of Ryan White that the GRID myth was dispelled and the fact that HIV does not discriminate became a reality" said Ms. Clemons.

The third segment was more colorful and lively - it was done to emphasize hope in a new era of HIV, reflecting the availability of medications to everyone. The last segment was about awareness. Teens walked the runway wearing fashions that incorporated the color red, the color of HIV awareness. They also wore red tape covering their mouths and removed the tape to symbolize that society should no longer allow the HIV stigma to permeate our communities.

Overall, the theme of the show was to "tell a story and promote action and increase awareness ," said Ms. Clemons, adding, "I believe they did it."

Next up for Project K.I.S.S. is the Annual World AIDS Day Awareness and House of McQueen Ball Celebration to be held on Friday, December 4. The event is sponsored in collaboration with Grand Street Settlement's Project Sol Program, The HEAT Program, and the McQueen Mpowerment Project for LGBTQ Youth.

For more information on Project K.I.S.S. and upcoming events, call (212) 746-3355 or visit the Project K.I.S.S. website at www.kissnyc.org.

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