Thursday, November 26, 2009

Grant takes BASE participants to D.C.

Not many high schoolers actually get to educate an elected official in Washington, D.C. But in early November, several students who participate in a local AIDS prevention program got that chance.

Led by Steve Walker, PACES program manager at Wyandot Center, and Lori Dowd, faculty advisor who teaches at Bishop Ward High School, the students traveled to the nation’s capital courtesy of a $5,000 grant from the AIDS Services Foundation of Greater Kansas City.

During their Nov. 5-8 stay, they took in some of the usual sites—the monuments, the Smithsonian and the Holocaust Museum, which Walker described as a powerful experience.

But their chief purpose was to spread the word about their experiences with HIV education. As participants in BASE (Be Active in Self-Education), the five students and one young adult have been at the forefront of a program designed to increase HIV awareness among peers.

They’ve created posters, organized HIV awareness weeks at their schools and — at Turner, Schlagle and Washington high schools —have offered on-site HIV testing.

In Washington D.C., the students shared these experiences with the likes of Rep. Dennis Moore, whose Third Congressional District includes Wyandotte County. Walker said that Congressman Moore was a gracious and receptive host.

“We were expecting 15 minutes with him, and he gave us an hour,” Walker said. “He kept saying, ‘When’s your next meeting? Do you have time?’”

Congressman Moore used the extra time to regale the students with his guitar and give them a tour of the Capitol, including a walk through the tunnel that connects the Capitol building to Congressional offices a block and a half away.

The students also shared their experiences with Dr. Timothy Harrison, an AIDS policy analyst for the Department of Health and Human Services. Walker said Dr. Harrison is always looking for innovative AIDS prevention programs. “You’re definitely on our radar,” he told the group.

The students then met representatives with the National AIDS Fund and the D.C. branch of an international marketing firm, GMMB, which recommended using social networking tools such as Facebook to spread the word about their efforts.

But when asked about the trip’s highlight, the students came back to Congressman Moore. One student told Walker, “We felt like Dennis Moore had heard us, and we left feeling like we have an advocate.”

Those in the photo: Far left – Lori Dowd, faculty advisor; far right, Steve Walker, PACES program manager; center, Congressman Dennis Moore; with student AIDS Ambassadors representing Bishop Ward, Turner, Bonner Springs and Washington High Schools.

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