LEAP for Girls Alumnae and facilitators
Love Heals founder, the late Alison Gertz is a true example of taking control of one’s destiny and legacy despite negative circumstances. After being diagnosed with AIDS, Ali decided to become an advocate for HIV/AIDS prevention and education. She became an internationally recognized spokesperson, devoting her final years to providing youth with pertinent information about HIV. After Alison died at the young age of 26, her three friends continued her mission by co-founding Love Heals. In 2017, Love Heals was acquired by nonprofit research and training organization ACRIA, strengthening its position as one of the largest providers of comprehensive sexual health education, including HIV prevention, in New York City Schools.
“We strongly believe that comprehensive sexual health education is a right for youth, not a privilege. Through our sexual health education and leadership development trainings youth, ages 14 – 19, are provided with the knowledge and skills they need to protect themselves and their communities from HIV,” said ACRIA Executive Director Benjamin Bashein.
Despite progress in the 30+ year fight against HIV/AIDS, New York City’s HIV epidemic continues to heavily impact youth, especially in communities of color. According to the New York State Department of Health, Black and Hispanic youth accounted for 85% of new HIV diagnoses and 91% of new AIDS diagnoses in 2014 and 2013 respectively. An influx of poverty rates, drug and alcohol abuse, gang violence and high infection rates in communities of color, coupled with unequal access to sexual health education has enabled HIV to have a disproportional effect on their communities.
These unfortunate circumstances make it even more important for programs like the Love Heals Youth Education Program to thrive and exist. With funding from DIFFA: Design Industries Fighting AIDS, ACRIA offers a LEAP for Girls training program in Harlem and The Bronx in neighborhoods heavily impacted by HIV, STIs and unplanned teen pregnancy. The organization also facilitates a 15-member Youth Advisory Council, which allows youth to learn more about their sexual and reproductive rights, make informed decisions, and understand government policy-making processes that impact their sexual health in a group setting with peers. These programs are conducted in partnership with schools and community-based organizations across the New York City metropolitan area.
Since inception, the Love Heals Youth Education Program has reached more than 700,000 young people through expert facilitated trainings and presentations.
“We are extremely grateful to DIFFA for its support of ACRIA’s work to protect the sexual and reproductive health of New York City youth heavily impacted by HIV, other sexually transmitted infections, and unintended adolescent pregnancies. Funds support our efforts to educate our youth and develop their leadership and community advocacy skills in preparation for their future roles as effective change agents,” Mr. Bashein.