Please check out this exceptional piece titled “People vs. AIDS,” which was created by a young student at a local high school we do HIV education at.
For most families, getting kids ready for school takes a lot of work and can come with a steep price tag. But for families affected by HIV, many of whom are living at or below the poverty level, back to school preparations can be especially difficult. The prospect of buying school supplies and clothes, in addition to the everyday physical and medical demands they often face, can be daunting, and children may be sent to school without everything they need to set them up for a successful year.
To offer a lifeline of support to its clients and others from throughout Greater Los Angeles, AIDS Service Center (ASC) held its annual Back to School event Aug. 24 at Pasadena Senior Center. There, families and children identified by ASC and other local agencies as needing aid received free school supplies and clothes, as well as a range of personal care services and fun activities and treats.
Professional hair stylists offered their services for free, cutting, trimming and styling grateful parents and their children, and the company Joico donated $2,000 worth of shampoo and conditioner for families to take home. Make-up artists painted faces and nails, thanks in part to nail polish donated by ORLY International, and girls got colorful braids woven into their hair adding just a kick of style.
Tables piled high with brand-new stuffed animals, backpacks and toys waited for children to pick out their favorites. Cooks dished up freshly grilled Mexican food and members of the Holy Family Church passed out Sno-Cones.
Contributing to the festive atmosphere of the outdoor event were balloons, deejayed music, and games. In fact, it seemed there was only one thing missing — any mention of HIV/AIDS.
This was intentional, says ASC Executive Director Anthony Guthmiller.
“The whole concept for back to school is providing kids and our clients’ families a day where they could not be worried about their medical issues,” he said. “The things they probably don’t get to do on a regular basis — that’s what we want to do for them today.”
ASC extended an invitation to HIV clients from other Southern California agencies, including AltaMed, Bienestar, Alliance for Housing and Healing and Pasadena Public Health Department’s Andrew Escajeda Comprehensive Care Services. Becky Vanderzee, a social worker for the Escajeda clinic, said an important aspect of the event is to give children a morale boost as they head into the new school year.
“It’s kind of like a normalization for them, and it relieves families of a huge burden,” Vanderzee said, looking around the Senior Center patio at volunteers busily at work. “This is such a good combination of services coming together. It just shows unification in the community.”
It is in that spirit that South Pasadena’s Holy Family Church has been volunteering at the event for the past several years, according to Director of Community Services Carrie-Ann Lue Sue. Although the event is just one day, it offers something important to families dealing with HIV/AIDS.
“For one day the kids and the families get to forget their illness to let somebody else take care of them and be pampered, and they get it all in one place,” she said.
Lue Sue and other volunteers from Holy Family Church operated the Sno-Cone machine, creating icy concoctions for sun-weary families. As afternoon temperatures began to climb, children and adults alike clamored for cones, mixing flavors and colors.
The church is happy to lend a hand in the community, Lue Sue said, regardless of participants’ religious affiliation. “It has nothing to do with race, creed or religion,” she added. “It has to do with taking care of God’s creation.”
Everywhere, at every table and in every chair, volunteers worked with caring hearts and hands to give children and families in need a leg up for the new school year. Their motivation? Kindness, said Ilfredo Anaya, a hairstylist from Factory Hair and Makeup Studio in Pasadena who came out to offer free cuts in exchange for a smile.
“I like to see a person’s face light up. It changes their whole attitude,” Anaya said, explaining his reasons for volunteering. “You have to have a giving attitude — it’s just about paying it forward.”