Tyler Gilyard - SEP: Syringe Exchange Program
Tyler Gilyard works with SEP, the Syringe Exchange Program at ACR Health. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday members of the SEP Team, including Tyler, go out with the SEP van to Dudley and Fitch Street in the heart of Syracuse. The large silver van is equipped with a full working clinic that provides HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis tests. It also has a variety of needles to exchange and free meals for the homeless.
Gilyard wanted to give back to the community and help people struggling with addiction. Every day is different at SEP. The overall goal is to prevent the spread of HIV. SEP offers a way for injection users to safely obtain needles, no questions asked. The toughest days loom over the office when there is another report of an overdose.
SEP offers free Narcan training and kits to all clients. Narcan is an opiate antidote that can reverse an overdose. Tyler provides trainings and has events for families involved in the program. Gilyard recalls when he used Narcan on a client who was driven to the clinic by a friend after overdosing. “He didn’t even know we had [Narcan], he just knew that we would know what to do,” Gilyard said. Every time someone uses Narcan, Gilyard considers it to be a life saved.
As the Opiate Epidemic continues to grow in Syracuse, SEP grows with it. The program enrolls about 50 new clients a month. SEP coverers nine counties and sees a lot of people coming in from other areas. SEP offers a variety of needles, sterile water, cotton balls, tins and meals for the homeless. Gilyard discusses options that stem farther than drug use. He offers next-step counseling, insurance plans and free access to nurses and clinics.
All programs at SEP are free, including ACR Health’s testing services. Once you are enrolled in SEP, you are issued a card that identifies you as a client in the program which gives you access to all its services.
Marissa Rice - Director of Youth programming
Marissa Rice is the Director of Youth programming at ACR Health. Rice came to ACR Health in the early 1990’s after graduating college. She didn’t feel that there was a proper sexual education program in school systems. She saw her friends struggle as young adults due to the lack of information available to live sexually healthy lives. Rice recalls the early years she worked at ACR Health, three youth committed suicide because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. “It was just unbelievable and I don’t think people understand the depth of it,” Rice said. Rice believes that gender identity can define an individual and if it has to be hidden, it can tear people apart.
At ACR Health, Rice is on a mission to reach every youth with a group that supports their needs. The Q Center has groups that start at the age of eight all the way to 30. These groups include Transgender youth groups, Unity group for gender queer/gender fluid, Women of Color and so on. “At the Q Center, we don’t just accept, we embrace,” Rice said. Rice says it’s about getting a sex positive message out there and not shaming anyone.
Rice’s work at the Q Center and the Adolescent Health Initiative is aimed to eliminate gender stereotypes and change the way our society thinks. The Adolescent Health Initiative is targeted prevention program that works with youth and young adults ages 12-22. It is a peer support group that develops positive social and community norms and healthy decision-making about sex. The program focuses on developing lifelong skills to reduce risky behaviors that lead to unintended pregnancy and STD’s. By creating different youth groups that fit the needs of Q Center youth and working on the Adolescent Health Initiative, she creates an inclusive and welcoming environment for youth, families and LGBTQ allies.
Ryan Barone - Community Engagement Coordinator
Ryan Barone is the Community Engagement Coordinator for ACR Health. When Barone started his work with ACR Health, he was a prevention health advocate. He didn’t necessarily have the job experience but had the life experience with that line of work.
Before becoming clean in 2009, Barone struggled with drug addiction. He battled homelessness and mental health issues while using. This inspired Barone to give back to the community. He had a vision of being in health services. When he found ACR Health after his step-mother worked here, he knew it was the right place for him. “After being four years clean, I was ready to go and work with people that I could relate to and could probably relate to me,” Barone said.
Each day Barone gets to work with people going into treatment for mostly drug issues. Barone knows many people going through treatment programs because he used to be one of them. He views it as a connection between him and his clients. He says that it is nice to know and have a relationship with clients on the advocate side. He believes that clients can see him and provide a little bit of hope for them. “I was a client, and I am only one bad decision away from being a client again,” Barone said. He is able to show that an addict can grow with the right kind of support. When clients are ready, Barone is there to help them get clean and stay clean.
Karen Fuller Assistant Coordinator – Q Center
Karen Fuller has worked at the Q Center as the head of the Transgender Parent Support Group since September 2015. She also works with the Transgender Youth Support Group for LGBTQ youth ages 13-17. Fuller began as a volunteer for ACR Health several years ago after her son transitioned. She works with the kids in the Q Center and leads the Trans Parent group.
Since she began, one of her goals is to be a connection for parents of LGBTQ children. Every day Fuller receives a call from a parent who is struggling. Fuller guides and supports them through their child’s transition process. “It’s really nice to give them advice because I’ve been where they are and I know what they’re talking about,” Fuller said.
The Q Center opened its doors in 2006, early on in her son’s transition. Fuller and her family came for the opening day in hopes of connecting with other people and finding programs her son, Shane, could join. Shane joined the Trans Kids group when he was nine, and when Shane turned 13 he was able to join the upper-age group LGBTQ Youth & Allies, and Fuller began volunteering.
Every day Fuller gets to see kids grow into themselves at the Q Center. “It’s really exciting to see kids come in here after being places where they haven’t been supported,” Fuller noted. She sees the fear in their eyes, but as kids come to the Q Center and see other kids just like them, with a staff that understands them, they blossom. Fuller says it’s a bonus as an employee to get to see how a supportive environment like the Q Center can really impact a kid, just like her son. Fuller saw all the things her son learned, his skills, growth and progress after being involved with the Q Center. “Being here, [Shane] was able to do things that we wouldn’t have expected him to do,” said Fuller.
Andrew Lynch Jesuit Volunteer
Andrew Lynch came to ACR Health as a Jesuit Volunteer for one year. The Jesuit Volunteer Corps is a one year service program that involves post-graduates and some sort of hands on service work. Lynch discovered ACR Health after searching for health care services focused on HIV/AIDS work. “I wanted to see what health care looked like outside the doctor’s office,” Lynch said.
For Lynch, HIV/AIDS health care was appealing to him after growing up with a lot of left over fear and stigma from the initial outbreak. Through the Jesuit affiliate program, Lynch focuses on social support and justice within low income areas. Lynch views the earlier years of HIV/AIDS as a failure of the health care system. He strives to remove the fear and stigmas associated with HIV/AIDS and frame it as a health issue.
ACR Health started as an all volunteer services program. With time, every department grew and became a permanent part of ACR Health. As a volunteer in the Volunteer Department, Lynch is involved with each department within ACR Health.
Lynch says that most volunteers come from addiction recovery programs or lost someone to HIV/AIDS growing up and now have time to give back. “It’s a neat way for people from all walks of life to come around a common goal,” said Lynch.
As the third Jesuit Volunteer at ACR Health, Lynch is excited for the organization’s upcoming years and growth. Lynch, a University of Michigan grad, studied biomedical engineering for both undergrad and graduate school. Lynch plans to pursue a career in medicine and go to Med School. Lynch wants to combine his work at ACR Health with his career in health care and focus on low income health needs.