Friday, December 5, 2008

world AIDS week: why i do what do

"So...what do you do?"

It's the standard getting-to-know-you-in-DC question. It's often preceeded by "My name is So-and-So" and "Nice to meet you."

Common reactions to my response to this question are usually:
and my personal fave: That's interesting.

Total aside: I'd tell you exactly what I do but it's kinda unique so that any savvy internet researcher can easily find me and my employer and I'd rather keep that out of this blog. All I can tell you is that I run an exceptional HIV prevention program that specifically targets an at-risk population that is often overlooked in the big, wide world that is HIV prevention programming.

No matter the reaction I get, whether positive or negative, it doesn't really matter to me. I LOVE MY JOB! And the journey to this position was a long, winding one.

At USC, I was pre-med. The summer before my senior year, I did the USC/DC program where I came to DC and was set up as an intern for someone who was hard up for free labor while I took 2 poli sci courses through USC. I was the only English major/Pre-med student in the program. USC set everyone else up with Hill internships. Mine was with the National Association of People with AIDS.

I worked alongside the policy director at the time. Together, we lobbied and protested and researched. He introduced me to some really cool peeps, like Eleanor Holmes Norton, Ted Kennedy, and Jim Jeffords. I learned SO MUCH about health policy and how that translates to what actually happens in the community. By the end of the summer, an AIDS activist was born. When I returned to USC in the Fall of '99, I was a changed woman. I wanted to make a difference in my community. I wanted to fight AIDS. I wanted to spread the message of HIV prevention. I did not want to be a doctor.

After graduation, I got an internship with the AIDS Services Foundation of Orange County, but I felt the itch to return to DC. For the two years I was still at home, I was starting to lose my desire to fight AIDS. The OC just wasn't cutting it. The AIDS crisis a WAR! I wanted to be in the trenches, armed with my HIV education pamphlet in one hand and a handful of condoms in the other. I wanted to go to a place that HIV was hitting hard. I just had to go back to DC. So, I went to GWU to pursue my masters.

All the while, I had this job at the Crap and I kept it when I moved to DC because it paid the bills and was flexible with my school schedule (I actually transferred from an OC store to a DC one). But I was restless. I hated retail but I couldn't do an unpaid internship again. I needed a job.

So, I found one in reproductive health. It started with grunt work, but then I moved up to something more wonky. While I liked policy work, it didn't satisfy me. I wanted to be in the community, not going to congressional briefings. Eventually, I started to look for jobs.

Because I didn't hate that job, I had the luxury of waiting to find a job I truly loved. One day I found the posting for my current job. And now, here I am, feeling pretty lucky.


This post was not the post I planned for today. It's Friday so it was going to be a Fun, Frisky Feline post with pictures of Gracie chewing on a condom lollipop and pictures of Nicky with condoms on top, a la Stuff on my Cat.

But this week's posts have been super emotional for me (this post was especially challenging to write). I'm really passionate about this cause and I pour my heart and soul into this job. I love it, I really do. But sometimes I have to remind myself why I'm here. I had to do this post for me, to remind me why I do what I do. I have my good days and my bad days at work. However, most people's bad days at work don't usually involve someone dying or OD-ing.

I see some very depressing things and hear some very troubling stories every day. But my job is more than that. I feel like I focused on the negative so much lately that I totally forgot that something awesome happened this week.

I was running around the office trying to do too much at the same time (which seems to always be the case lately), when I ran into a graduate of my program in the waiting room. I had heard that he was recently in the hospital for something and I was glad to see he was ok. I dropped what I was doing so that we could catch up. I love when program alums come back and visit because it gives me the chance to check up on them.

We're in the waiting room and he's telling me about his hospital experience. At some point, he said to me, "So, when they admitted me, they gave me an HIV test." In a room full of anxious people waiting to get tested for HIV, he then exclaimed, "And you know what??? I tested negative!" With a smile on his face, he asked me, "Aren't you proud of me?"

Oh my goodness. What I felt just then I can not put into words. To answer his question, Yes, I was really proud.

And that is precisely why I do what I do.


instatick said...

That's a pretty good reason to do what you do. The world would be lost without people like you to do the work that you do, so thank you.

Bilbo said...

I love my job, too, but I think you probably get much more of a feeling of accomplishment out of yours. Good on You!!