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Service-Learning Project Supports Local HIV/AIDS Community

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By Karen Guin

Students enrolled this fall in "HSC 3593: HIV Disease: A Human Concern" saw the benefits of learning about and supporting people battling HIV/AIDS when they sponsored a Christmas party for local families affected by the disease.

The guests were participants in HUG-Me, a program at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando that provides HIV/AIDS services for the community, said course instructor Sharon Douglass, an associate professor in the the Department of Health Professions. They included individuals infected with HIV and their family members.

On Dec. 6, some 220 guests and students arrived at the Orlando Science Center to share in the fun of games, arts and crafts, entertainment, food, gifts and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The students set up the rooms, supervised the activities, served the dinner and took care of the needs of their guests.

Student Stephanie Scoville said she could summarize her feelings about the party in one word: "phenomenal."

In many ways, the party represented a culmination of the students' semester-long assignments and activities. Through readings, journaling, writing papers, medication-regime simulations and interactions with HIV-positive individuals, the students expanded their knowledge of HIV/AIDS, including its acquisition, clinical manifestations and prevention.

"I learned that the disease comes in all shapes, sizes, colors and nationalities," said another student, Angelo Lewis. "This disease does not only affect one group ... it affects everyone."

Armed with this new-found knowledge, the students successfully served as advocates for the HIV/AIDS community at events to raise funds to hold the party. They held bake sales, car washes, garage sales - anything to raise money - to pay for renting the party facilities, the catering, arts-and-crafts materials and other expenses.

The students prepared for the party with a much greater awareness of the HIV/AIDS community.

"Four months ago, I would probably not have volunteered for a party with HIV-positive persons in attendance," Scoville said. "But now, after the preparations for this project, I am able to say that I would love to do this again."

"There is still the stigma and still a lot of ignorance and a lot of students share this," Douglass said. "It's really great to see how their views change."

For the families, the party offered a welcomed break from the medications and doctor's appointments that infiltrate the lives of HIV-positive individuals and their loved ones. Moreover, it offered a feeling of acceptance.

"The fact that almost one hundred students pulled their resources to provide money, joy and presents for the families had a huge impact on the HIV community," Lewis said. "It sent the message that there are people who care and who are willing to help ... that they are not in the fight alone."

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