Darcy Chears is helping to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS one free lunch at a time.
The Carlson Library media technician recently received the HIV Volunteer Service Award from the Ohio Department of Health for her work in spreading awareness and knowledge about the disease to one of the most vulnerable demographics: African-American females.
Chears, along with her partner Donna Hamilton, founded and operate the two-women organization Females Unveiling the Secret and have used it to reach the traditionally underrepresented group of at-risk people.
“When my best friend was diagnosed as HIV positive, I said ‘I have to do something,’” Chears said. “This is personal for me. I can educate and let people in common with myself know that there are resources and help available.”
So Chears sets up free lunches, car washes and health fairs across the area and uses the forum to pass out pamphlets, spread information, share stories and offer support for women who may be unfamiliar with HIV risk factors or for those who have tested positive for the disease.
Duane Herron, the minority health program coordinator for the Toledo-Lucas County Commission on Minority Health, nominated Chears and Hamilton for the award. He said the ladies’ programs provide a much-needed service in the area.
“Seven out of 10 women in the country with HIV/AIDS are black,” Herron said. “It’s such a serious public health issue, and these women can reach that population. It’s something a lot of national organizations can’t do.”
According to Jared Rose, prevention education and outreach team leader for the Toledo chapter of the AIDS Resource Center Ohio, major organizations have a hard time reaching African-American women because they don’t have many advocates who fit into that demographic.
“Whenever you work in public health, one thing that’s really, really powerful in reaching your demographic is having someone from the target demographic doing the outreach,” Rose said. “We can provide support and we can provide resources, but we’re just simply not going to be able to reach these people like they are.”
Chears said she recognizes how connecting with people can play an important role in being able to talk openly about sex, HIV/AIDS and other health risks.
“There are a lot of black men who are bisexual,” she said. “There is a comfort zone that needs to be there for conversations about this to be successful. There is a stigma attached to being gay in the African-American community. And these men don’t admit to having sex with other men and then they go and have sex with a woman. If they’re infected, that’s when you run into problems.”
Chears, who said she was thrilled to win the award, will continue to bring awareness to the HIV/AIDS problem.
“This can’t be a secret anymore,” she said. “HIV is not killing people. The ignorance is killing people. It’s taking lives and it doesn’t have to be that way.”