Friday, Dec. 1 marks World AIDS Day, uniting people in the fight against HIV. The global health day provides opportunities to show support for people living with the virus, and pay tribute to those who succumbed to an AIDS-related illness.
In Hempstead, located steps away from the Hempstead Bus Terminal, is a warm, safe haven dedicated to delivering vital services to women with, or at risk for, HIV/AIDS with histories of trauma, substance use and/or mental health challenges. The women, ages 16 and older, are invited to attend HERTURN, a program funded by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) and operated by the Mineola-based nonprofit, Family & Children’s Association (FCA).
Launched in 2016, the new program stands for Health. Empowerment. Resiliency. Treatment. Understanding. Recovery. Network. It aims to provide support, education and outreach to Nassau County communities where barriers to treatment are common for many women.
“Statistics show that a large percentage of women living in Hempstead, Roosevelt and Uniondale are less likely to seek HIV care due to their socioeconomic status or insufficient access to transportation and childcare,” explains Jeanne Cacciatore, LMSW, Program Director, HERTURN. “These are also communities where crime, violence, homelessness, substance abuse and teen pregnancy put women at a higher risk of developing the virus.”
Cacciatore’s team, supported by FCA’s Addiction, Treatment & Recovery AVP Jaymie Kahn-Rapp, MPA, MSEd, LMHC, CRC, consists of three case managers and a bilingual social worker/outreach specialist working together for program participants to find and link to essential services delivered through FCA and the agency’s community partners, including doctors and care coordinators who specialize in the care of HIV positive individuals. Partners are (but not limited to) NuHealth and the Long Island Federally Qualified Health Centers (LIFQHC), The Safe Center and Planned Parenthood of Nassau County.
“Without our intervention, many women would have difficulty attending their appointments and navigating challenging systems to seek benefits that they are eligible for. Our goal is to get them where they need to be,” Cacciatore says. HERTURN even provides a van to transport women to their appointments. MetroCards are distributed to further facilitate access to care.
Other services include two weekly support groups, HIV testing, as well as health education and trauma-informed care workshops. Childcare is provided at FCA’s nursery for mothers of young children (ages two to five) on weekday mornings (excluding Mondays). HERTURN also connects program participants to mental health services and provides onsite bilingual therapy once a week to survivors of Intimate Partner Violence. Linkage to a vocational program is also available to previously incarcerated women looking to re-enter the workforce, as well as linkage to FCA’s GED Program and its Chemical Dependency (CD) Programs (including but not limited to FCA’s own enhanced Bi-lingual Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment and Recovery Centers).
“With the support of our internal and external community network, HERTURN’s mission is to let these women know that somebody cares,” Cacciatore says.
HERTURN is now providing outreach at a local soup kitchen, Mary Brennan INN, as well as its Center for Transformative Change (CTC), to raise awareness about HERTURN services. So far, the outreach plan is working and feedback has been strong. For one program participant, HERTURN has been “a blessing,” connecting her with important services that have helped to enhance her life and “add another layer to staying sober.”
Mirroring those sentiments, Nikita Wells says, “At HERTURN, I can come in and talk to my case manager and feel her heart listening to my every word.” Wells credits the supportive staff for helping her with the application process for a training course she is about to take to become a substance abuse counselor. “They assisted me every step of the way and I am now awaiting my start date. HERTURN helps you to realize that you are here for a purpose.”
HERTURN is located at 126 North Franklin Street in Hempstead, New York.
All females who believe they are eligible for HERTURN supportive services may walk-in or schedule an appointment for an intake at 516-486-7200, ext. 5246. Any providers who would like FCA to provide outreach information at their site, or who would like to visit HERTURN’s offices, are invited to reach out as well.
For further information, please visit www.familyandchildrens.org.
—By Kelly Kass