■ By Teena Riley / Contributed
“I’ve always had a heart for people and service,” said Curtis Smith, CEO of the Families Living with AIDS Care Center (FLACC). Smith and Bienville Haywood, both of the care center, held another HIV/AIDS outreach program last week in Gibbel Park in conjunction with the Riverside University Health System (RUHS) and the Riverside County Department of Public Health. The goal? To educate the public and set up a mobile HIV/AIDS education and testing station. Close to 20 people were tested on April 20.
FLACC’s booth dispensed free information and condoms while the RUHS mobile unit offered free HIV and AIDS testing. The testing involved a newer technology that tests the inner mouth cheek instead of a more invasive blood test, which have been considered the gold standard. The cheek swab technology can give results in about 20 minutes.
The consensus among people being tested seemed to be that the new testing process was much easier and more streamlined. One of the individuals being tested, identifying himself as D.J., stated that he found the process “simple and straightforward.”
Issak, a teen volunteer, said, “It was only like a two-minute process. It was nothing hard to do and when you find out, it’s better to know and not have to worry about it than to never know and never have that knowledge.”
Yet another teen spoke of a cycle of not testing and being unaware of one’s HIV status, which can in turn cause them to accidentally infect others.
Smith stated that FLACC performs community outreach and testing once a month. FLACC is a community-based organization that offers a safe place to address the specific issues, needs and concerns of individuals and families living with HIV. FLACC provides case management and provides for assistance with things ranging from transportation to and from medical appointments, food and clothing, and support groups through the Workforce Center in Hemet.
Smith founded FLACC in 2004 after being his own family’s advocate for HIV/AIDS resources and needs. He is also a member of the California Planning Group and the Inland Empire HIV/AIDS Planning Council, which is under the Center for Disease Control.
The young adult community was making it a priority to get involved by both volunteering to help FLACC as well as getting tested themselves. One thing that both Smith and the teens all agreed upon was that the negative stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS needs to be eradicated in order for meaningful communications to begin taking place.
“Changing the stigma is the first thing to make it easier,” said Allen, a teenage volunteer. “Because once the stigma is gone, people will learn and get tested really quickly.”
FLACC will collaborate monthly with the Riverside University Public Health System’s mobile testing unit to provide testing and resources to Riverside County’s most underserved communities including but not limited to: Hemet, San Jacinto, Moreno Valley and Temecula.
Although everyone is encouraged to get tested, Smith said that people between the ages of 18 and 25 and African-American and Hispanic women have the highest risk of HIV/AIDS infection.
The next education and testing event will be on May 23 at Fish Hut, 1027 W. Florida Ave., from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.
“It’s all about raising awareness; being out in the community,” said Smith.