New Grant Will Help Wayside Educate Youth About HIV/AIDS

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A new grant received by Wayside Youth & Family Support Network announced will be used to create a social media campaign to inform youth about preventing HIV/AIDS and substance abuse.

The $125,000 grants was provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and it will target minority teens and youth in Watertown and other area communities.

The Youth Media Action Project (Y-MAP) will use social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to increase prevention messages to youth ages 12-18 about HIV/AIDS and substance abuse. The target audience is African American, Haitian and Latino youth living in and around public housing in Somerville, Waltham and Watertown, Mass. Wayside will also work closely with Gay Straight Alliances at high schools in these three cities, according to an announcement from Wayside.

“We are pleased to have received SAMHSA funding to focus on these important issues for youth. Addressing HIV/Aids and substance abuse prevention early is vital,” said Laura Kurman, senior program director at Wayside. “It is something that can affect all young people, although studies show that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender as well as minority youth are disproportionately more at risk. Through Y-MAP youth will have a relevant and timely forum to learn about and discuss these issues.”

The goals of Y-MAP are to increase prevention messages to minority youth through social media, decrease stigma and prejudice around sexual orientation and increase access to social media as a platform for youth to express themselves. Peer coaches in each of the high schools will create podcasts, blogs and videos about prevention topics such as avoiding risky behaviors like substance abuse that could lead to HIV transmission, promoting safe condom use and resisting peer pressure.

The coaches will host six virtual education events that will coincide with national HIV/AIDS awareness events such as World AIDS Day in December when Y-MAP launched its “Choose Yourself” social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter, including one on Feb. 7 for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

Peer coaches will create a video discussing HIV/AIDS in their communities. The video will be shared on the “Choose Yourself” social media pages and YouTube.

“We are so proud of our peer coaches from Waltham, Somerville and Watertown who, through social media, are working to overcome stigma about HIV/AIDS within their own schools and in their community,” said Jenny Khweiss, a program supervisor at Wayside.

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