A little over a year ago, Aja was in a tough place. He was recently off parole, his drug use was out of control, and he was living in a homeless shelter. He felt isolated from his community, and he wasn’t protecting himself during sex. He desperately needed a helping hand.
One day, as he was walking down Sixth Street in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood, he noticed a drop-in group hosted by the foundation’s Stonewall Project called Wellness Wednesday. It’s a service that offers massage, acupuncture, music, snacks, and a place to hang out. For Aja, it offered a second chance.
“As soon as I walked in there, it was like, ‘oh my god,’” said Aja. “There was just so much love in that room. And so I started going every week. It changed my life.”
Aja’s experience at Wellness Wednesday was so transformational that soon he yearned for more. He found out about Stonewall’s weekly book club and started attending it regularly. Then he joined a drop-in group for drug counseling. A short time later, he enrolled in The Positive Reinforcement Opportunity Project (PROP), which helps men who choose to stop using crystal meth. Now he meets regularly with a Stonewall counselor for one-on-one sessions.
“I’m going to say this, and I may start crying, but Stonewall is the best thing that ever could have happened to me,” said Aja. “I’m not back in jail and I have stable housing now. I remain HIV negative and I’m seeing my doctor. I have food in my refrigerator. Stonewall, through its harm-reduction philosophy, has taught me how to take care of myself and my health.”
For Aja, the foundation is home and staff members are like family.
“I’m telling you, I’ve just been so blessed,” said Aja. “In just one year and two months, since I first walked into my first Wellness Wednesday, my life has completely changed. I cannot thank the foundation enough. There is no judgment when you walk in here, and that’s so important.”
Aja now volunteers at Wellness Wednesday and has become involved in the foundation’s Black Brothers Esteem program. Most impressively, he is now a member of the San Francisco HIV Prevention Planning Council, helping to set priorities for the city’s efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. He is focused on his future, and the future of his community.
“I’m now working on getting my GED,” said Aja. “I also want to do work around harm reduction—helping people understand how it works and how it can help them take control of their substance use, whether that’s full or partial abstinence, or controlled use. I want to do more outreach and education to the Black and Latino communities, which are heavily impacted by HIV.”
As Aja says, he’s not just talking the talk, he’s walking the walk. He feels it’s important for him to lead by example so that others might be inspired to seek out help the way he did.
“I’m just trying to set a good example in my community,” said Aja. “Whenever I’m walking around in the streets, I’m either passing out educational literature or telling people about stuff that’s going on at the foundation. I try to get the word out about safe sex and taking care of your health.”
Aja’s future is bright and he’s not looking back. He’s grateful for what the foundation has done for him, and now he’s paying it back by helping to improve the health of our entire community. A remarkable example, indeed.
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