Making a Difference for HIV Positive Youth

By: Savas Abadsidis

Twenty-four years ago, Summer (not her real name) was born with HIV. But with advancement in medicine, she knows that she can live a long, full life and have a child who does not enter the world with the virus.

Summer's been working with the Saint Luke's and Roosevelt Hospitals' Spencer Cox Center for Health to share their stories in short videos by Connected Health Solution’s My Media Life program, an organization that helps young people spread information and education about HIV in beautifully shot, informative, and engaging short public service announcements.

In addition to telling her story, Summer was one of the filmmakers who helped create and produce the campaign. The program has lost money due to the government sequester and she's started an Indiegogo campaign to finance her next project. Here, she shares her view on this groundbreaking work. How did you become involved in the YAP program?
"I like to think that I became involved in the YAP program due to this wonderful thing called synchronicity. In 2011, I graduated from college and decided to take a vacation in NYC. You know the usual, visiting family and celebrating one of my greatest achievements. Towards the end of the summer, I became very ill and was hospitalized for two weeks because I was off of my antiviral medication for about 15 years. It was then that the St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital for comprehensive care became my main provider. They suggested that I reside in the city until my health improved. At the time, I thought this has got to be the worse celebratory event in the history of celebrating. I met with a social worker at the clinic who was very adamant about me coming to a supportive therapy program which met weekly for HIV+ young adults. She was very persuasive and passionate about the program--which compelled me to at least try it out. I became a member of a family of health providers and young adults who share the same struggles as I do. It was and is my new safe haven."

What's the most valuable part of the program? 
"Having to name one thing that is the most valuable part of the program would be cheating the program itself. The part that holds prevalence above others is the opportunities that we as HIV+ people are able to experience. And find pleasure in each experience. YAP gives us that space where we are all able to meet once a week and vent about a life that we struggle with and most times is hidden from the world. We are able to do so in a comforting environment. I've been a member of the program for two years and within those two years we have had members join who were newly diagnosed. I can only imagine how unnerving it is to be diagnosed as a young adult with this condition that has such a huge stigma around. And then to find this program and find peace and comfort is wonderful thing."

"My Media Life gave me the opportunity to experience many revelations. I always had this idea that I needed to share my story with the world. I was unsure of how to make that happen or if my voice would be heard. Once given the opportunity, the world was feeding my soul. My purpose in life had a sense of clarity. After finding out that YAP would not be able to fund the My Media Life program, I realized YAP may not have the opportunity to produce another campaign, I decided to try a new approach: the Indiegogo campaign. This campaign allows us to raise the money we need. Our work will not be done until we break all barriers restraining HIV from being viewed as a manageable condition worldwide. HIV has evolved into a manageable condition. But how many people are aware of that? And why are there so many new diagnoses? Making these PSA's gives us the opportunity to spread awareness so that one day in the near future the HIV epidemic can cease."

What would be your dream collaboration when you have the chance to shoot your film?
"If I had a chance to collaborate with a celebrity it would have to be Alicia Keys. I'm absolutely floored by her passionate work with Keep a Child Alive. How amazing is it to be a child diagnosed with HIV and having love, comfort and support from such an amazingly talented person. I have been a fan of hers since the cornrows with the beads while rocking an earring with a key. Amazing! For her to take on a global fight against HIV/AIDS is incredible. As an HIV+ woman, she gives me the strength to continue this battle. My Media Life collaborating with Alicia Keys would be epic!"

Help make a difference for HIV positive youth by donating to the YAP program’s Indiegogo campaign.