School’s back in session at FIGHT

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Local HIV/AIDS service organization Philadelphia FIGHT is starting the new year on the right foot with the relaunching of its highly popular and longstanding Project TEACH classes.

From Jan. 13-March 3, about 30 participants will have the chance to arm themselves with realistic, useful tools in their struggle with HIV/AIDS. The program, whose acronym stands for Treatment Education Activists Combating HIV, has been in place since 1996 and so far has educated more than 1,600 individuals with HIV/AIDS in the Philadelphia area.

Leah Hilsey, the intervention coordinator at TEACH who conduct the classes, began working with FIGHT in August and spearheaded her first TEACH series in October.

She said the demand for the program is extremely high, with the organization receiving hundreds of applications for each series.

Hilsey said the courses cover a vast array of topics so as to give participants the most well-rounded education.

“I like to say that we do everything under the kitchen sink,” she said. “We have people come in and talk about HIV in terms of holistic alternative therapies, stress-reduction, mental health, LGBT resources and basic medical things too, such as discussions about different medications, resistance and adherence and patient-provider communications.”

Hilsey said the program also allows individuals struggling with the disease to seek support from one another through shared experiences, such as when and how to disclose your HIV status to loved ones or employers and how to deal with the repercussions of those conversations.

At the end of the eight-week training program, participants who successfully meet attendance and other requirements will be granted a $150 stipend, which Hilsey said is meant to function as an added bonus for those who exhibit a commitment to expanding their work in the field of HIV/AIDS.

“The stipend is an incentive to get people to come and become educated and move on to do advocacy in the area of HIV,” Hilsey said. “We do ask people to miss no more than a couple classes and to do all the homework, so it runs similar to any other class you might be taking. And we try to give that incentive to try to keep people coming in and wanting to stay around FIGHT and maybe get more involved in the area of HIV activism.”

Hilsey noted that while the curriculum for this series is similar to previous TEACH programs, the demographic makeup of the current group is not.

“This is a much older class than our last one; they’re mostly middle-age and people who are 50 and older,” she said. “These are people who were diagnosed later in life and have a whole different perspective on what it means to be positive.”

Hilsey said the organization chooses TEACH participants mostly on a first-come, first-served basis. The next series is tentatively scheduled for the beginning of April.

To access a TEACH application form, visit www.fight.org. Hilsey suggested that interested participants also contact her directly, either at (215) 985-4448 ext. 233 or [email protected]

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].