STARTJanuary 2013
  • Nebraska AIDS Project Names New Executive Director

    The Nebraska AIDS Project (NAP) is proud to welcome Brent Koster into the role of Executive Director for the organization. Koster fills a role recently vacated by the departure of Interim Executive Director, London Woolman. Koster brings more than 15 years of non-profit experience to NAP, including more than 13 years with Goodwill Industries, Inc., in Omaha, Nebraska. He most recently served as the Vice President of Mission Advancement. He also has five years of case management experience that positions him well to understand and advance the many services NAP staff provides to clients across Nebraska, southwest Iowa and beyond. “The Nebraska AIDS Project Board is pleased that Brent Koster has accepted this new challenge at a time when NAP is in the process of implementing a new strategic plan,” said Jason Coleman, PhD, President of the Nebraska AIDS Project Board and Director of the School of Health and Kinesiology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “His long-time experiences in the non-profit world makes him well suited for this role with NAP.” “I am excited to be with an organization that I can really believe in and help support the mission,” Koster said. “This is a critical juncture for NAP as we try to advance the strategic plan the board and leadership developed. In addition, our major annual event, Night of a Thousand Stars, is coming up and it’s going to build upon the success and excitement of last year, so we’re in full planning for that.” Koster has been in Omaha since 2003, relocating from Seattle, and is a member of the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands 2018 Executive Institute. He and his wife, Chelsey, have two daughters. The family is passionate about involvement in the community, with Chelsey being a past volunteer with NAP. Dr. Coleman added, “The board is grateful to London for her years of service and dedication to our mission, clients and the NAP team, especially during this transition. We wish London the best in her next chapter.” Koster began his role as executive director on Tuesday, Aug. 14.
  • HIV and the Faith Community

    August 27th is National Faith HIV Awareness Day

    When I think of church, I think of what it has meant to me during the course of my lifetime, and often, what it has not provided me.  The church has always been a place where I can go to sing, praise, and grow closer to God. Traditionally those are some of the more basic functions of the church in the present day. However, I feel historically the church has failed to address matters outside of spirituality, with the exception of a handful of churches here in the Omaha Metro. It has always been a belief that the church should be concerned not only with the spiritual aspect but rather the whole person; whether it is mental, physical or emotional. The well-being of the people who rely on the church SHOULD be a priority, but is often ignored.


    If I could meet MY community where they are, then I could change the dynamic and the culture around African Americans and testing.


    Kingdom Builders Christian Center, while not an old church by any means (being only 9 years old), has dedicated part of its mission to ministering to the whole person.  Kingdom Builders Christian Center, founded by Pastor Darryl Brown Jr. and 22 founding members, has dedicated itself to its community.  Earlier this Spring when I met with Pastor Brown, he expressed nothing but excitement when I told him I wanted to offer HIV and STD testing in the church. I knew this would not be an easy feat, but it was my hope that through my testing efforts that if I could meet MY community where they are, then I could change the dynamic and the culture around African Americans and testing.  In my talks with Pastor Brown he expressed his excitement and that such a service was necessary to follow the commandment of Jesus and fulfill the mandate of the church.  He further added, “the church has a duty to the community to provide knowledge and promote/start the healing process.”

    Reception to Kingdom Builders and the HIV testing program has been positively received by the community. It is our hope that we can continue to move forward with this partnership and encourage others within the faith-based community to be open minded with this form of outreach, in order to meet the needs of people living with HIV, who are often forgotten. The partnership between NAP is becoming a vital resource.  As time passes, we have no doubt this collaboration will continue to grow. We hope to increase community knowledge in a space that has the ability to make great strides with HIV and AIDS awareness.


    Free HIV testing is available at Kingdom Builders Christian Center (4039 Charles Street, South Entrance, Omaha), starting in September, every Tuesday from 4:00-7:00 pm, by appointment or walk-in. Call or text Tommy for more information at 402-327-1367.

    Tommy is a Prevention & Outreach Specialist in Omaha for Nebraska AIDS Project.

  • HIV Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day

    HIV Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day is held every year on June 5th.  This year's commemoration marks the 37th anniversary of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting on June 5th, 1981 about five cases of rare pneumonia affecting young, gay men living in New York and California. This was later to be defined as the beginning of the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Today, 26% of all 1.4 million people living with HIV in the U.S. became positive before 1996, meaning they are long-term survivors. HIV Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day is a day to acknowledge the unique barriers and commit to providing ongoing support to those who have been living with HIV for 25-plus years.


    The 2018 theme is “HIV It Is (Still) Not Over” because communities are focused on goals of ending AIDS and prevention, which leaves those living the longest with HIV feeling left behind. While taking strides to end AIDS must happen, we must take care of the needs of those who have lived with HIV for 25-plus years. Those who have lived with HIV for decades can describe the psychosocial complications they face. We can imagine the trauma of receiving an HIV diagnosis before one had access to life-saving antiretroviral treatments (ART). We can imagine the stigmatized identities, rejections, criminalization that those who are living with HIV have faced over the last 30 years. We can imagine the physical pains those who entered human drug trials in real time, taking a harmful treatment of AZT just to stay alive. L., a woman diagnosed in July 1987 describes, “No one talked about it. Even my boyfriend who gave it to me--we never talked about it. No one was telling women to get tested. I remember seeing a commercial in the 80s when living in California, telling gay men and drug users to get tested for AIDS and I remember thinking to myself 'I wonder if that means me, too.’ It wasn't really a shock when I heard I had HIV--but waiting two and a half weeks to find out was rough."

    Living with HIV

    Despite this historical trauma and stigma, those living with HIV are resilient. C., a man diagnosed in 1994, reports that the invention of ART medications was life-changing, “I felt like I’ve been given a second chance in life. That’s where all my positivity comes from. It’s been 24 years, almost a quarter century and I have so many friends and family who have been supportive.” Remarking about the change in perception about HIV over the years, “people are so much easier to accept me now, they don’t bat an eye when I tell them I’m living with HIV. The key word there is living with HIV.” L., also describes positivity, “I've met a lot of great people as a result of being a long-term survivor. The best thing has been seeing more acceptance as the landscape has changed. I've told a lot of people and most everyone has been accepting. I don't allow them not to be. The worst part of being Poz has been losing my daughter to complications. I try to keep such a positive and upbeat attitude. Like anyone, I've been through a lot of crap." In closing, I leave you with the 2018 HIV Long-term Survivors Day (HLTSAD) goals:
    • HIV and aging are complex and nuanced. HIV Long-term Survivors are aging but constitute a distinct cohort of different medical and psychological challenges including AIDS Survivor Syndrome, poverty, isolation, and invisibility.
    • In our haste to End AIDS prioritize the 2018 modern-day needs of HIV Long-term Survivors.
    • Survivors are a valuable part of our communities we need to empower them to become the elders, leaders, and teachers.
    • Celebrating HIV Long-term Survivors for enduring a historically unique epidemic and being the pioneers of the AIDS pandemic.
    • Prioritize HIV Long-term Survivors culturally-aware healthcare and mental health.
    • Move beyond survival, the goal is aging well with HIV.
    • Honoring resilience and strength, it took to survive multiple casualties and unprocessed grief while planning to die.
      [one_fourth] #ItIsStillNotOver [/one_fourth] [one_fourth] #HIV [/one_fourth] [one_fourth] #LongTermSurvivors [/one_fourth] [one_fourth last="yes"] #HLTAD2018 [/one_fourth]      

    Lacie Tewes is the Prevention and Supportive Services Supervisor in Lincoln for Nebraska AIDS Project.

  • On the Importance of Peer Support

    One of the things I hear most often from clients is that HIV is an isolating disease. Some clients say they lack a strong support system, especially those who live in smaller rural communities. Often, I wish I could tell them they are not alone, that HIV exists in every community on this planet, but it is little consolation when others are too stigmatized to emerge and create those meaningful peer connections. That is perhaps one of the biggest challenges we face—how to help those living with HIV make meaningful connections with other positive people. Since I began my career at NAP as an intern in 2014, I have had countless opportunities to mix academic scholarship with my daily work with those living with HIV. Every opportunity I could use NAP as a model for a course project, I leapt at the chance to provide awareness about what we do at Nebraska AIDS Project and to improve the quality of services we provide to those who need them. With this “work smarter, not harder” approach, it should come as no surprise that I spent over a year of my graduate program studying the effects of peer support on people living with HIV. It is one of my deepest passions—to advocate for programming that utilizes evidence-based approaches like peer support. Peer support is an intervention strategy designed to increase adherence among HIV positive persons. These are different than support groups as peer support is designed for one-on-one audiences.  Peer support models were initially designed to help those who struggle taking their medications and keeping their doctor appointments but has since been used in a variety of other areas of HIV care. Peer support is perhaps one of the most powerful and underused interventions we in public health have in our toolbox. And I would guess largely underused as so many AIDS Service Organizations have seen a decline in their positive peer volunteers and little capacity to offer a formalized training to those peer mentors. Some of you may remember years ago when NAP had a “buddy program.” I am reminded of the buddy program often by our longtime clients who miss the relationships they had one on one. While the buddy program didn’t pair two positive people together, it did provide a key element that is often overlooked in doctor offices and exam rooms: identifying at least one person who could support them in their HIV health journey. Many clients remind me how much they loved having the one-on-one informal support that came from a volunteer, rather than a paid staff person. It is my hope that someday participants throughout our community will feel called to action to share their talents and gifts as HIV positive persons to help those in need of additional peer support. And that’s only one part of the hurdles we face to implement this needed programming. Much of the larger issue is the stigma and shame we’ve been working to eradicate since the beginning of HIV. And if anyone reading this has the solution for how to destroy stigma, I’m all ears. Many HIV programs throughout the country recognize how important peer connections are in keeping those living with HIV healthy and engaged in care. There are designed curriculums to teach HIV positive peers how to mentor one another. Most programs rely on seasoned survivors to take newly diagnosed peers under their wing and accompany them to doctor visits, explain lab draws and results and educate them on the importance of taking medications every day. A physician will also provide this information, but as research has demonstrated, having this information explained by a peer has a much more impactful and lasting effect on that person’s health literacy. For my final graduation research project, I chose to survey people living with HIV in Iowa and assess their interest in peer support. Overwhelmingly, I heard “Yes, I’d definitely be interested!” Perhaps one participant said it best: “I think peer support programs are critical to the stability and well-being of those living with HIV/AIDS.” I couldn’t agree more with him. Living with HIV provides a wealth of knowledge and experience that patients won’t find in a pamphlet or from watching a movie. The most powerful tool professionals can provide to those living with HIV is the power of peer connections and providing the opportunity to foster those relationships. I would encourage you to take a moment out of your day and think about the peer support you have in your life, perhaps even send those peers a note of thanks for being a support to you. Maybe the tie that bonds you two together is not an HIV diagnosis, but knowing you have someone who understands what you’re going through and is there to lift you up and encourage you can make all the difference. Brittany is a Southwest Iowa Case Manager for the Nebraska AIDS Project in Omaha, serving 11 counties in Southwest Iowa.
  • Give to the Nebraska AIDS Project

    Friends of NAP, The board of directors at the Nebraska AIDS Project has been working diligently to consider the changing landscape of AIDS Service Organizations (ASOs) and the need to ensure that service offerings continue for people living with HIV in the state of Nebraska and beyond for years to come. The past year has been critical in our need to acknowledge that fundraising for HIV as a cause becomes more difficult with each year, and federally funded programs remain stagnantly funded or even reduced over time. I am proud of the leadership that NAP’s staff and board have committed to over the past year, and we are excited about some of the paths we are creating to ensure that HIV continues to be a sustainable focus in Nebraska for the future. As we prepare to execute an ambitious strategic plan over the next 12-18 months, we know that the ultimate success of NAP will depend on the community’s response, and we appreciate the ongoing support from each of you. During this year’s Omaha Gives, we are asking friends to commit to the future with us! Like any strategic plan, ours will be supported by community members who share our vision for sustainable HIV care in Nebraska. We ask that you consider a donation in the amount of $50 (or more) to either Omaha Gives on May 23rd or Give to Lincoln Day on May 31st. Links to schedule your donation for either campaign can be found below. Please also consider challenging a friend, loved one or colleague to match your gift. My thanks for your continued support of the Nebraska AIDS Project. I’m excited to share the details of our future-focused plan with you in the near future. Omaha Gives: Give to Lincoln: Donate directly to NAP:   Warm regards, Jason D. Coleman, Ph.D. Board President, Nebraska AIDS Project
  • The Superman Complex – Youth and HIV: Are We Really as Invincible as We Think?

    I think back to my younger years and how as a young adult I often felt I could conquer the world. This mindset was never truer than when I became sexually active. I always knew that I was supposed to wear protection or face these horrible consequences that I was often taught in school. However, the messages I received in those years were a very blanketed and vague collection of ideals meant to be used as fear tactics not truly a strong educational reference. It was these tools, or lack thereof, that helped form the mindset of invincibility. I felt I could not relate to what was being presented to me and in my mind so long as I wore protection I was safe. I feel this is ultimately where the disconnection often occurs when communicating messages surrounding sexual health to our young people. There are so many influences that counter the progression in sexual education with false propaganda or fear-based ideology. To name a few, sex is often viewed as a rite of passage into adulthood. Because of the hyped sensation of being sexual active through televised or digital media outlets, or simple peer pressures; these all can hinder any progress achieved in educating our youth. There are other factors that play a vital role in this education that comes from within the family unit.  Sex is often not talked about or discussed in the home.  Add to that, the impending fears that are used to deter from such conversations within the home either from lack of communication, or even religious stance. It is these same challenges that hinder our work to effectively communicate good, healthy practices, but none the less, it is also opportunity to get in front of the issues.  Youth 13-24 make up nearly 22% of new HIV diagnosis.  Young adults become sexually active at earlier ages, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact timing that these discussions should take place. But how do we get the word out there? Especially when there are influences that hinder this communication. A possible and effective tool for this demographic is Social Media.  There are countless sites in which we can try to reach our youth.  Not merely through advertisements, but direct posts of valuable, little “nuggets” of information, that can be referenced. I find that posting lengthy or overly stats driven posts will lose the interest and the information is not effectively communicated.  It is important to be brief, impactful, and intentional; remembering to keep the message simple and easy to understand. Although it may be read quickly and then scrolled passed, it may very well implant something in the mind to think about the next time they choose to engage in sexual activity. Furthermore, because many parents utilize these same sites, it may help open the door to effective communication in the home. By educating the parent of the youth, it will give them talking points to help drive these conversations in the home in ways that are not chastising or misunderstood. What do we communicate? Not just stats and numbers, but real facts that communicate that HIV is real and next time it could be you because you are not invincible.  Not to communicate fear, but promote making sound and healthy sexual choices.  Not endorsing the act of sex, but empowering those if they so choose to engage in sexual activity, to be properly educated and more importantly to create a dialogue in which talk about sex isn’t taboo…but a culture in our living. In a perfect world, it would be nice if we could go into the schools and talk freely about sexual health, and even though some sexual health curriculum has made progress, there is still much room for improvement. By not changing our approach, we are inadvertently reinforcing the message of invincibility in our young people.  In the meantime, we have to use the tools most accessible to us and remember to change our approach as the world continues to evolve around us.   Tommy Young-Dennis is a Prevention & Outreach Specialist at the Nebraska AIDS Project in Omaha.
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