by Hal Eisenberg, C.S.W.

When one sees staggering statistics such as 50% of all new HIV infections are amongst youth under the age of 25, (CDC National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, 2003), it becomes imperative and obvious that organizations must collaborate to address the overwhelming needs of adolescents in our community, in a way that is innovative, empowering, rewarding, and well received.

Living Beyond Belief (LBB) and Windows of Opportunity (WOO) comprehends the critical importance of this issue and is proud to announce the beginning stages of our new HIV/AIDS Peer Empowerment Leadership and Training Program.

Beginning the week of September 13th, and continuing throughout the school year, a total of three pilot HIV/AIDS Peer Empowerment Leadership and Training Programs will begin at Benjamin N. Cardozo and John Bowne High School in Queens County. The goals of conducting these pilot groups are two fold. Initially, the selected youth from both schools will be participating in ongoing leadership training geared towards assisting LBB and WOO in writing a new and comprehensive HIV/AIDS leadership and training manual to use with future groups of teens. Secondly, these trained youth will be coordinating the 4th Annual Teen to Teens HIV/AIDS Awareness Conference in May 2005, with invitations going to all the high schools in Queens County.

As the names imply, the “opportunity” that this program will create is “beyond belief!” It is the goal of this collaboration, that significant funding is obtained, in order to have a fully functioning HIV/AIDS leadership and training manual by June 2005, as well as coordinating a Peer Empowerment Program in at least one high school in each of the 5 boroughs of New York City by September 2005, culminating in a Teen to Teens HIV/AIDS Awareness Conference in each borough over the course of one week in May 2006. We will in fact be building on the accomplishments of former Living Beyond Belief grant recipients and assist in reducing, and ultimately eliminating, the toll that HIV infections and AIDS takes on young Americans.

By engaging youth from communities and schools throughout the city, these young people will be able to build relationships with representatives from other communities facing the same challenges and work together towards concrete solutions. Thank you for your support in continuing this fight, while helping us to empower our leaders of tomorrow.