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Professor's Party Brightens Holidays for Children with HIV

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By Gene Kruckemyer

Associate Professor Sharon Douglass' "HIV Disease: A Human Concern" class changed forever when she and a colleague organized a holiday party for children with HIV.

After her class hosted that party about 15 years ago, one of her students told her that he learned so much more by helping those with HIV instead of just hearing about them.

"At that point, I ditched the quizzes and started having them do all kinds of other things, like watching movies, doing simulations, whatever it takes to internalize what it's like to have HIV," Douglass said about the College of Health and Public affairs class.

The holiday party that she and adjunct faculty member Linda Potkovic work on each year  is still going strong, and this year her 60 students held an early December gathering for 38 children with HIV and their families.

The children's party is the culmination of a semester of interacting with HIV-positive individuals, journaling and other activities. The students each raised $150 to hold this year's party at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee, where the children will have lunch, go on a scavenger hunt, make some arts and crafts, and experience the wintertime attraction ICE!

"My passion for HIV kids started when I read about Ryan White," a Kokomo, Ind., hemophiliac who received the HIV virus in the 1980s after a transfusion of 'factor,' which helps the blood to clot, Douglass said. "I've been teaching this course for 27 years."

She said some of her students have pursued careers working with people who have HIV and AIDS, including one student who became an immunologist, another who went to Africa to work with the HIV population, and others who have gone on to work with HIV/AIDS organizations around the United States.

More than just increasing the Health Management and Informatics students' awareness of the HIV/AIDS community, the party puts a smile on the faces of the children for at least a day, Douglass said.

Anyone who would like to support or become involved with other service events organized by Douglass' class can contact her at teachucf@gmail.com.

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