The Peer Advocate Program is one of the oldest programs at WORLD. In WORLD’s early years, HIV+ women and their allies came together informally, not only to help themselves but to help other women with positive diagnoses.
In 1997, WORLD’s informal peer support process became formalized when Ryan White funds allowed for the first paid peer advocate position at WORLD. Starting with only one funded position in its first year, the Peer Advocacy Program has grown into one of WORLD’s largest and most valuable core services. WORLD’s peer advocates now reach out to HIV+ women in the community, in clinics, in their homes, and in all walks of life.
The peer team is comprised of WORLD staff serving in both generalist and specialized capacities, including Clinic-based Peer Advocates, a Latina Peer Advocate, and others all working under the guidance of the Program Manager. While WORLD Peer Advocates typically serve HIV+ women on an individual basis, the program staff works together as a team. Peer Advocacy Program staff work together to coordinate and facilitate two weekly women’s support groups at WORLD, as well as retreats and other services.
The Peer Advocate Program is largely under the umbrella of the Family Care Network (FCN) of Alameda County and receives support from other entities, as well. FCN is federally funded to serve women and children living with and affected by HIV/AIDS and the Network includes Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland; Alta Bates Summit Medical Center; East Bay AIDS Center/Downtown Youth Clinic; Alameda County Medical Center; La Clínica de la Raza; East Bay Community Law Center; The Hawkins Center (a program of Rubicon of Contra Costa County); and WORLD. Peer advocates work closely with these agencies to ensure that women are receiving the services they need. In 2006, WORLD Peer Advocate Program staff became critically involved in linkage-to-care work and WORLD has since dedicated efforts to identifying and supporting women who have fallen out of medical and social service systems of care. WORLD’s experience in outreach work has become an important tool recognized for its success in the local community.
What does a Peer Advocate do?
Peer Advocates provide a range of services. The primary focus of the program is to provide emotional and practical support to women living with HIV/AIDS. Emotional support includes anything from a shoulder to cry on, to a listening ear, to a referral to a support group or therapist. Practical support may include providing women with the support to get to medical appointments by offering a phone call reminder or a ride. Sometimes women find it helpful to have a peer advocate present during a medical appointment to help with asking questions and receiving the full benefit of medical care.
Who is a Peer Advocate?
Peer Advocates have life experiences similar to those of the women they are serving and they are trained to provide peer counseling to women. They serve as role models to women who are learning how to navigate the medical and social services systems. Peer advocates stay abreast of treatment trends and provide non-directive information. They provide consumer input to the medical community, sitting on local task forces, engaging in public speaking events, and networking with providers. In so many ways, peer advocates serve as allies to HIV+ women when things are tough and life feels overwhelming.