Making grant $ stretch through networking

HIV clients become peers, peers become staff

A New York City AIDS organization has demonstrated for years how to stretch funding and make programs more effective through a combination of collaborative meetings, networking, and volunteers.

"What has been really helpful to us as a collaborative is we have a very large network of women who work within other nonprofit organizations and who volunteer with us," says Claire Simon, executive director of The Women's HIV Collaborative of New York in New York, NY.

The network has stretched dollars and its small staff of two fulltime and one part-time employees by giving the organization access to researchers who volunteer time for projects, and it's helped with policy relations and advocacy work, Simon says.

The collaborative's work involves connecting HIV-positive women and girls to services throughout New York City.

For example, the organization publishes a pocket guide to HIV/AIDS services. It's 52-page booklet that is designed to fit in a woman's purse. Soon, it will also be available on the organization's Web site, Simon says.

"We've committed to having this document in as many organizations as possible and at the department of health testing sites," Simon says. "We particularly want it available at places where women can get tested, and if they are diagnosed as HIV positive, we want it to be something they can walk out the door with."

Another strategy involves the organization's community roundtable meetings in which leaders from a wide variety of groups and government entities gather to discuss their roles in helping women.

The roundtable meetings typically focus on a theme, such as women and the criminal justice system, which had about 75 attendees, representing 20-25 different groups, Simon explains.

At this roundtable meeting, attendees discussed how women in the criminal justice system learn of their HIV status and what happens with them when they have children who are taken away from them or when they have a partner who also is incarcerated, Simon says.

"We provide a space where partners can come together and build up relationships," Simon says. "It's a relationship-building tool."

The meetings usually are held on the second Thursday of the month, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. The panel consists of people with a range of views from direct service to research to advocacy and policy work, Simon says.

Panel moderators typically provide background information and statistics, and then each panelist discusses his or her own interest in the topic being discussed, she adds.

"They talk about what's happening with the population, what they're seeing, and what are the gaps in services," Simon says. "Then we generally try to get a person directly involved, like a woman who had been incarcerated, to speak about her experiences."

As the panelists and audience raise various issues and challenges, someone else attending the meeting might speak up with a potential solution.

"Everyone can ask questions and make comments, and this is where the networking comes in," Simon explains. "One goal of the collaboration is to create innovative solutions and strategies around these issues."

Often, attendees will raise questions, and then someone there will offer a creative solution and expertise to making the solution happen.

"Someone could say they'd write a grant or develop a plan for a solution," Simon says.

For example, one researcher who attended the collaborative meetings has since helped the organization with a research and meta-analysis project, Simon says.

"It saves us money," Simon says. "Having that level of expertise at the table is really informative to the work we're doing."

In another example, the organization's HIV/AIDS pocket guide was the result of a roundtable meeting.

"Time and again at these meetings people would ask, 'Where do I send this woman for this or that?'" Simon says. "We created this document with the help of our colleagues to say, 'Here's something that you can have in your waiting room, in your office, and if you're testing a woman and she's HIV positive, she can use the guide.'"

Another example of a collaborative effort resulted from a youth in foster care forum about young women of color, she notes.

"We partnered with an organization called Young Women of Color HIV/AIDS Coalition, and they work with young women and service providers who do not do HIV prevention," Simon says. "They share information about HIV and its impact on young women."

So someone who has a literacy program that reaches a large population of young women of color could help provide HIV prevention education to the literacy clients, Simon explains.

"We wanted to target folks who weren't doing HIV prevention and have them see it as a youth model," Simon says. "They have the opportunity to share information with the young women they work with."

A job placement and readiness forum resulted in providing networking for HIV-positive women and at-risk women who had an interest in various professional career areas.

At a forum on youth in foster care, a couple of attendees discovered that they could collaborate on services, a discovery that would never have happened if it weren't for the forum, Simon says.