Last April, I was sitting through my usual lunch shift at the Health and Wellness office located in the Indiana University’s Memorial Union building. It was ‘Get Yourself Tested’ week and the office was buzzing with students.
As I walked in for my shift, I noticed three people that I had not seen around the office before. As they worked in the waiting area, I realized that this must be the team (Community Capacity for Prevention and Education) I heard my supervisors talking about the week prior in that they would be using our office space to provide free HIV testing. I didn’t think much of it at the time, and just continued on with my usual work throughout that week.
As the week dwindled down and I saw them again on Friday, I remember becoming completely intrigued in the work they were doing. I asked a few general questions about how the tests worked and what kind of counseling they provided.
What stood out the most was the overall friendliness they showed, not only to everyone in our office, but also to the students they were providing these services for.
At that time, I was about a month away finishing my undergraduate career at IU. I was more than excited to finally be done and start the next chapter of my life, and I started thinking about different types of positions I could apply for that I hadn’t already considering.
I have always been passionate about health in general, but the reason I chose to study public health is because I could never see myself being a medical doctor. Public health intrigued me so much because it took problems that were local, state-wide, or even national health issues, and tackled them in ways that made real positive changes on, not only individuals, but communities as a whole.
This became a motivator for me. I wanted to be someone out there making that positive impact and visible change in the world around me, or even just the smaller communities around me.
I grew up in Richmond, Indiana. If you are born and raised in Indiana, chances are, you’ve probably heard of Richmond. I can almost guarantee what you heard isn’t good.
It’s a town that went from a thriving, bustling community back in the 70s and 80s, to what is now pretty much only known for its drugs. It is a community that tries to take every step in the right direction, but always seems to lose its way.
Leaving Richmond and coming to Bloomington was such an absolute blessing. Though this place is amazing in too many ways to even count, Bloomington has its fair share of health and community related problems; many of which were topics of conversation in my core undergraduate classes. Realizing this is what I believe validated my major choice, and developed in me a passion I wish to spend the rest of my life pursuing.
With all that in mind, I jumped at even the slightest chance of being a part of CCPE.
When I first contacted Matthew Clay, the program manager for CCPE, I asked if there were any sort of trainings I could partake in to gain further knowledge and experience within the field, before I set out to finding a full-time job over the course of the next few months.
Matthew emailed me back and let me know I could participate one of CCPE’s evidence-based practices, Say It Straight. I had no idea what to expect from this training or how it would help me further my knowledge in the field, but I went in full-throttle.
The training lasted two days, and what I took away from it is something I know I will always be able to hold on to. This particular implementation was a communication assertiveness tool that helps those who undergo the training sessions learn how to effectively communicate with others by turning disempowering communication into empowering communication.
Even after just a few days of completing the training, I would catch myself using disempowering communication behaviors, and would immediately think back to the training and turn those same behaviors into empowering ones. This is the type of training that is experiential. Because of that, I believe it is something I will use the rest of my life and that will make me better, not only in the workplace, but with my peers, family, and friends.
Not too long after finishing the training I kept in contact with Matthew. I ended up staying around the Bloomington area and continued my work with the Health and Wellness office. One day, I received an email from Matthew saying there was an opening within his team at CCPE. He told me that he thought I showed potential and would be a great candidate for the team.
By the end of August I had accepted a part-time position as a Prevention Specialist with the team and could not have been more excited! I knew this work would be fulfilling every single day, and that I would be able to make such a positive impact on the community I had been calling home for the last four years.
Stepping into the role of Prevention Specialist for CCPE was such an exciting experience.
I remember walking into the office on my first day of work with the team and getting this overwhelming feeling of welcome as I looked to the empty seat (which I suspected to be mine) that was neatly set up with a laptop, folders prepped with information, and a CCPE wrist band all waiting just for me on my first day.
As I immersed into the office I saw my co-workers sitting around that same table. No offices or individual desk space – just a team working together around the same table, constantly sharing ideas and collaborating with each other to get their goals accomplished.
As my first few weeks went by, I wanted to jump right into everything. I wanted to start participating in our evidence-based practices, and learn all there was to know about them. With great excitement, that’s exactly what I got to do.
As a prevention specialist, I helped implement our program’s evidence-based practices throughout the community. By doing so, I helped with our ‘Say It Straight’ program which I mentioned above, and our ‘RESPECT’ evidence-based practice, which focuses specifically on HIV. I was trained in the CDC’s RESPECT one-on-one HIV counseling protocols, which focus on reducing risk factors related to one’s acquiring HIV, while also learning how to test someone for HIV using OraQuick Oral swab testing.
During my time with CCPE, we tested over 100 people during a few week-long implementations, and have successfully counseled those same 100+ people on how to reduce their risk of getting HIV or any other STD.
Implementing RESPECT is when I think I found a true passion of mine (sexual health) and started doing all the research I could to strengthen my knowledge on HIV/AIDS to become a better team member.
In addition to implementing our evidence-based practices, we worked diligently to build capacity within the Bloomington community. We would set up meetings with different organizations throughout our county, in hopes that we could collaborate and continue to share our evidence-based practices to as many people in our target population as possible.
One of the best parts of this position was being able to sit down in these meetings, and see these community members become excited for the positive change we were striving to make.
Not everything was always about work and collaboration, though. With CCPE, we were able to step out of the office every so often and make true relationships with the individuals in our community. Several times, we volunteered at local schools in programs the put on, such as the Holiday Store at Fairview Elementary, or lectured in front of a group of college students about HIV in Monroe County. We even attended a few lectures at Indiana University to strengthen our knowledge in the scope of our work.
This position has taught me so many great life lessons outside of the knowledge needed to do the work. My knowledge on evidence-based practices grew astronomically, as well as my knowledge with HIV, which I grew a huge passion for over the last couple of months. In fact, HIV is such a huge passion for me now that my new job as a Care Coordinator at the Damien Center in Indianapolis focuses solely on fighting HIV/AIDS.
The CCPE project is completely grant funded through SAMSHA, so my knowledge with grants and the many aspects of grant writing, has also grown so much over the last four months. This team is filled with nothing but people who want everyone around them to succeed and grow in whatever aspects they can. Because of this, I felt motivated to come to work every single day, knowing that I would also be receiving that same motivation and encouragement from my team. I’ve learned what my strengths are as an individual, and how I can use those strengths within the workplace to better my team each day like they helped me become a better person and co-worker.
I could go on for hours about the many great things CCPE does in this community and how, in only the short time this grant project has been established, it continues to grow and change the community around it.
Having seen what this project does in our community, the positive impact it continues to make each day, and the lessons learned through this team makes me realize how truly important CCPE has become in the Bloomington/Monroe County area. Stakeholders within the community are continually jumping on board wanting to get involved. This just proves that CCPE is here for the long-haul, and will have sustainability within this community for many years to come. I can truly say that, even if it was only for a short while, I am so blessed and honored to have been a part of this team and the changes they have evoked within Monroe County.