June 5 marks HIV Long Term Survivors Day. The first reported cases of the AIDS epidemic were on June 5, 1981, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report of five cases of rare "pneumonia." As we remember the lives lost, we recommit to working with our partners & supporters to end the dual epidemics of HIV, AIDS & HIV-related stigma.

Post submitted by Charlie Ferrusi, a HIV 360° alumnus.  He is currently a Program Manager at the New York State Department of Health, AIDS Institute, working within the Bureau of HIV Ambulatory Care Services (BHACS) Retention and Adherence Program (RAP).

For nearly seven years, I have devoted my young adult life to combating HIV and AIDS and improving the health of LGBTQ people. Growing up in rural upstate New York, I often interacted with older adults, some of whom were living with HIV, all of whom lived through the epidemic. Talking with survivors about the early years of AIDS has helped shape my academic pursuits and fuel my career working in HIV prevention, treatment, and care. As a public health and social justice activist, I bring my passion and energy to state government in hopes of opening minds, holding people accountable, bringing new voices to the table, and instilling a sense of urgency in the people around me.

I originally applied to the HIV 360° Fellowship Program to improve my leadership and non-profit managerial skills. Additionally, I wanted to obtain professional insight and mentorship, as well as the opportunity to implement a community service project in the Hudson Valley. The support and funding that I received from the HRC Foundation has helped to bring an innovative and transformative program to the Hudson Valley region - The Link Project.

The Link Project connects people living with HIV and AIDS who are age 50 or older with emerging young leaders in the Hudson Valley. This is achieved by coordinating a series of community events and facilitated intergenerational conversations centered on HIV and AIDS and LGBTQ identity. During this time, people of varying ages are invited to build mutually beneficial and sustainable relationships with others in the room.  Across the nation, many older PLWHA continue to feel invisible. The situation is even worse in rural areas, like the Hudson Valley region, where fewer resources and waning support have left many older PLWHA struggling with depression, addiction, isolation, stress, and suicidal ideation. The Hudson Valley region continues to experience a lack of appropriate HIV and LGBTQ services, geographic isolation, and ongoing HIV-related stigma and discrimination.  

Through this project, we hope to provide long term survivors of HIV and AIDS in the Hudson Valley with emotional and social support, companionship, and community-building opportunities.  The support and funding that I received from the HRC Foundation has helped to bring an innovative and transformative program to the Hudson Valley region. By participating in the HIV 360° Fellowship Program, I have acquired the necessary skills to successfully design, implement, and evaluate a public health project. Additionally, I was able to navigate this experience alongside an intelligent and passionate group of fellows and program managers.

Developed with support from the Elton John AIDS Foundation and HRC Foundation’s HIV 360° Fellowship Program, The Link Project convenes multi-generational mixers and drag shows in the Hudson Valley area.  Charlie Ferrusi has been able to procure additional funding from Gilead Sciences to sustain The Link Project.

For more information on HRC Foundation’s work to end HIV and HIV-related stigma, click here.


Filed under: Health & Aging, HIV & AIDS

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