Condom van rolls onto campus to combat HIV

Monique A. LeBleu/Courier Free HIV testing, condoms, and information were provided by members of Project Choice in their "Condom Nation" van in the PCC Parking Lot 3, on Wednesday, March 2, 2016. Project Choice attended PCC by arrangement through the Veterans Resource Center.

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The Veterans Resource Center (VRC) on campus and Project Choice have teamed up to provide on-site HIV and AIDS testing through mobile “Condom Nation” vans that schedule semi-regular visits to PCC.

The VRC teamed up with Project Choice and the AIDS Health Organization to bring free HIV testing, counseling, sexual health education, and condoms to help spread sexual health education to help combat the HIV and AIDS virus.

The patriotically red, white and blue vans are easy to spot and are staffed with counselors and peer health advocates who are available for about a four hour duration while on the campus. Parked in cordoned-off spaces, the vans are made convenient for visits by students and veterans for safe and private testing and consultation.

As part of a federally funded program through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) the organization formerly known as Condom Nation now as Project Choice promotes HIV awareness and alcohol, drug and other substance abuse education and counseling to campuses that open such space for them.

PCC alum Mary Salazar, speech and communication, said being on the debate team while she was at PCC helped her to prepare for the one-on-one assistance she now provides as a member of the mobile testing team, where she is currently pursuing a masters in counseling.

“I have always had a big connection wanting to outreach with folks. Especially in the armed services, because I feel that they do not get the attention they need,” said Salazar, who has multiple family members in the armed forces. “And usually when they are back into civilian life, they are kind of forgotten. It’s just HIV counseling, but in counseling skills you are able to kind of uncover the layers and get a context of their story and where they are coming from.”

Veteran Center Specialist and board member and veteran health advocate for Project Choice Carol M. Calandra said that the Condom Nation van and Project Choice will continue to bring awareness to the campus because “people are still fighting HIV and AIDS.”

“If you are high or stoned or doing risky behaviors, what does it hurt to get tested?,” Calandra said. “We need to have an understanding that we are human beings and that we all have sex. It is nothing to be ashamed of to go get tested, because we have to love ourselves and love our [own] bodies in order to love one another.”

Mark Castanon of the VRC said that the idea to bring free testing to the college was important to him because he feels there is still a lot of misinformation out there about AIDS.

“A lot of people think it doesn’t affect to them. But in California the number of people with AIDS is quite high,” Castanon said, who works at the VRC and is a peer health advocate as a Project Choice member.

The California Department of Health recent HIV Surveillance Statistical report states that as of December 31, 2013, there are currently nearly 170,000 cumulatively reported cases of persons who are positive for HIV or AIDS.

Through the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Project Choice not only provides students and anyone with preventative measures information, but also provides peer health training to students as counselors to encourage and promote awareness in their communities, in their classrooms and in class presentations.

“We try to promote less risky behavior, and we do sexual education, because there just isn’t enough of it,” said 25 year-old peer health advocate and Cal State LA student, Veronica Aguilar. “What we are doing here is we bring the mobile units when we can and are able to get as many people tested as needed. It’s just one minute, and you get the results–just a finger prick. And then they’ll let you know if you are positive or negative.”

For negative test results, educational information is offered as well as free condoms. For any positive results, counselors are prepared on site to provide the resources necessary and further counseling.

Project Choice will be returning to the PCC campus on May 26 from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. to provide free HIV testing and resources.

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