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Since 1993, the AIDS Committee of York Region (ACYR) has been dedicated to improving the quality of life for those who are impacted by HIV/AIDS in our community. An agency funded by United Way York Region, ACYR has worked hard at raising awareness through education, as well as offering support and programs.
“There is a myth that HIV/AIDS is something that only affects people living in other places like Africa, India or South America,” Radha Bhardwaj, Executive Director, ACYR states. “However, HIV has a real presence here in Canada, affecting members of our community. Our job at ACYR is to provide these people living with HIV with a voice to be heard and offer relevant, meaningful support.”
For over four years now, ACYR has been running a unique service known as the Child, Youth and Caregivers Support Program. This program provides children, youth and caregivers infected and/or affected by HIV/AIDS within the region a continuum of care with access to basic survival necessities, including food, clothing, essential supplies, public transit, leadership and peer support. Education is a fundamental part of this process, as the ACYR also offers peer mentorship opportunities to promote well-being and coping skills. The purpose of the program is to enhance the overall quality of life for those individuals impacted by this disease. Recipients of the program range in age from newborn babies to college and university students.
“A majority of the families in our area who suffer from this debilitating virus live below the poverty line,” Radha begins. “Therefore we provide basic needs for struggling young families, such as formula, diapers, food and clothing. We also offer a support system for youth and provide assistance to those students who are college bound by helping with necessities, such as school supplies and educational tools.”
The program has been overwhelmingly successful, providing hope to those who might otherwise be completely debilitated by their illness and are dealing with the hardships of poverty, as well as the isolating effect of the stigma this disease produces. As one mother wrote to the ACYR, “Last night my daughter went to her prom night and she looked so grown up, she has also accepted an offer from McMaster and will be taking Psychology Neuroscience and Behaviour. We wanted to share this with you (the ACYR) because you have all been a huge support to our family and your contribution made it easy for my baby to soar through high school. It is really remarkable to be working with folks like you all that understand the success of every child in your agency is everybody’s business, if we give them an education and nurture them well then for sure the impact of being infected/affected by HIV/AIDS will not be as severe and their lives will not be rooted in poverty.”
For more information on the ACYR and the Child, Youth and Caregivers Support Program, please visit, www.acyr.org.