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February 19, 2014

Creating safe spaces for youth living with HIV

When Damien Center Linkage to Care Specialist Dexter Etter first started a support group for youth living with HIV, the teens who joined struggled to talk about their experiences with HIV.

"They didn't event like to say 'HIV'," says 21-year-old Dexter, who reaches out to HIV+ youth with The Damien Center through this group and another for 18 to 24 year-old HIV+ youth. "They always referred to HIV as 'it'."

But now? After several months of meeting, the young group, ranging in age from 12 to 15, has become a safe space to learn more about what HIV is and how it works, a place where its members can call HIV by its name and engage in real conversations about their experiences.

Born out of The Damien Center's Linkage to Care program and its emphasis on getting HIV+ individuals into care by eliminating whatever barriers stand in their way, Dexter's group is also helping its members break personal barriers toward living healthy, dignified lives. Whether its talking with a doctor more openly about HIV, making decisions about disclosure to friends, or simply having a support system, each young person is discovering what he or she needs to be empowered.

To learn about joining either group or to get linked with HIV care, contact Dexter Etter at detter@damien.org or 317.632.0123 ext. 239.

Learn more about how HIV and AIDS affect women and girls at Damienpalooza on March 8. HIV/AIDS activist Stephanie Brown, who contracted HIV as a young woman, will share her message of empowerment and inspiration alongside music, dance, theater, and more.