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Regional HIV/AIDS Connection
Marnie recently interviewed Adi Berardini, Regional and Digital Engagement Coordinator at the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection (RHAC). Originally the AIDS Committee of London, RHAC has been providing HIV support services for over 25 years. Apart from London-Middlesex, the organization currently serves 5 other counties -- Perth, Huron, Lambton, Elgin, and Oxford. RHAC will be expanding harm reduction efforts to these counties.
Our services range from doing client activities (like bowling or blueberry picking), peer support sessions, Healthy Harvest (programming that teaches nutrition and cooking skills), and Country Cupboard, a food bank for our clients. We also do free HIV and HCV testing weekly at our office. All services are free and confidential.
Additionally, we have harm reduction services like the Needle/Syringe Program and Temporary Overdose Prevention (TOPS) site that opened this February in partnership with Middlesex Health Unit (MLHU). TOPS is Ontario’s first officially-sanctioned temporary site for people to use their drugs safely and seek services for recovery. We have had 55 overdose reversals since it’s opened and we’ve helped to facilitate safer injection practices with all those who access the service. This reduces the risk of overdose and the spread of diseases, such as hepatitis C and HIV, and provides an opportunity to connect people who use drugs with treatment and wrap-around support services in our community (such as CMHA, LIHC, ADSTV and SOAHAC to name a few).
We also have programming such as Open Closet and Gender Journeys within our education department that offers support for LGBTQ2+ youth. One of our programs we recently integrated with is John Gordon Home, which offers a home for those undergoing HIV or HCV treatment and helps them transition into the community. Anyone is welcome to access our services.
Open Closet is a social support group for LGBT2Q+ (lesbian, gay, bi, trans, 2-spirit, queer) youth between 14 and 18 years of age. The group started in early 2002 and has served more than 1,100 youth since its inception. OC is open to youth from each of the six counties RHAC serves (Perth, Huron, Lambton, Elgin, Middlesex and Oxford).
The group includes discussions related to coming out, queer identities, LGBT2Q+ histories, survival strategies, safer sex and healthy relationships. We also bring in guest speakers, do arts-based activities, and provide information about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), harm reduction, and community services/resources according to participants’ individual needs.
Red Scarf is a movement bringing community together to raise real awareness and knowledge about the positive advances in HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention in the lead up to AIDS Awareness week, the last week of November. This year our tagline is “Know HIV. No Stigma” in order to raise awareness around HIV/AIDS and end stigma to improve the lives of those living with, affected by and at risk for HIV/AIDS in our community.
Since 2012, community members have crafted and donated over 7,000 handmade scarves for HIV/AIDS awareness. Like the red ribbon, the red scarf is a symbol of awareness and support for people living with HIV/AIDS. Red Scarf includes our knitting project, red scarf pop-ups, benefit concert, and World AIDS Day vigils.
For those interested in getting involved, you can knit or crochet a red scarf to raise awareness around HIV/AIDS. Additionally, you can donate to our online campaign, attend a World AIDS Day vigil (In London or Stratford), and of course, pick up a red scarf to wear in support! All proceeds directly support our programs and client services at Regional HIV/AIDS Connection.
Yes, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities at RHAC! We often look for both event volunteers and regular volunteers for our reception desk or weekly drop-in group called Couch Crew, which helps package harm reduction kits and, as of recently, helps us tag our lovely handmade red scarves!
I’d say an ideal volunteer is one that is comfortable speaking to the cause and has a great “team player” attitude. If you’re interested in volunteering, please visit the RHAC website.
There is always a lot of work to be done when it comes to expanding services that support the diverse communities affected by HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. We are a non-profit that is constantly growing to meet the needs of the community and to “meet people where they are at.”
Photos supplied by Adi Berardini