By Rebecca Metcalf
Wellness Services, Inc. of Flint, Mich., was formed to empower people affected by Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) while promoting education and prevention. It is a leader in HIV-related harm reduction and sensitivity education in our community. The organization wants the public to know whether it’s positive or negative, everyone has an HIV status. If you don’t know your status, they offer confidential and rapid (20 minutes) HIV testing.
If you test positive, it is not a death sentence and can be managed like other chronic conditions. Treatment is based on the most current research in traditional and nontraditional medicine.
“It’s estimated that Genesee County has approximately 670 individuals living with HIV. It ranks us 5th in the state for HIV prevalence,” reported Wellness Services’ Outreach Specialist Angel Keyes.
The center facilitates harm reduction for those whose behaviors place them at the highest risk for HIV. For example, they give out free condoms and lube. They offer Medical Case Management to people living with HIV. The center works with the person to identify all of the barriers that might obstruct staying engaged in medical care. This might entail assisting someone with transportation to medical appointments or ensuring they have access to housing and other basic needs.
“Every person’s needs are different and we do our best to tailor our program to fit their needs. The intent of the program is to help our [HIV] positive clients reach viral suppression so they can continue living their lives,” said Keyes.
Wellness Services also promotes health literacy so that people understand how HIV affects their body. It isn’t just a safe space to get tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Trichomonas). It’s also a safe space for the LGBT community. People can be themselves without concerns. Members of the LGBT community can hang out, help plan and attend events or watch TV.
Workshops and educational sessions based around LGBT identity, race, and economic status are meant to empower those who have had to overcome discrimination. Computers are available for doing homework, creating resumes, applying for jobs, checking social media and emails. The center hosts a wide array of monthly events such as movie and game nights based around a theme. These events have free food and drink.
Keyes is proud to inform us that, “In 2010, a small group formed out of Wellness called the Flint Gay Pride Society. The intent of the group was to meet and begin planning Flint’s very first Pride event. Many of the co-founders within the group are still actively involved in the planning of this annual event and have been pleased to see how much it’s grown over the years.” This year’s event is scheduled to be in Riverbank Park, downtown Flint. It will be on June 22, 2020, from 2 to 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/FLINTGAYPRIDE/.
In addition to helping those with HIV and the LGBT community, Wellness aims to prevent opioid-related overdoses. The Syringe Treatment Exchange Program (STEP) is on Wednesdays from 4 to 7 p.m. This program provides access to clean syringes and Naloxone or Narcan rescue kits for reversing drug overdose. The center offers regular Naloxone training where participants learn to respond to overdoses. “Each participant receives a kit at the end of training and refills are available as needed. As overdoses are occurring more and more, especially in public places, we want to create a network of helpers that are equipped and ready to save lives,” explained Keyes. This program saves lives and enhances our community.
Another salient program at Wellness Services, Inc. is community referrals. They refer their clients to other organizations to facilitate a network of resources. An example of this is food access resources. They also help clients obtain bus passes and provide some transportation assistance. Their website has links to www.cdc.gov and www.hiv.gov. If they can’t help you, they will find someone who can.
All of their services are free to the community. They welcome donations. “Many of the services we offer are not supported through grant funding, especially our LGBTQ+ focused services. Know that when you donate to us those monies go directly toward unfunded programs,” said Keyes.
Donations are to be sent to the address listed below. You may also reach out to them via Facebook. Whether you want to prevent opioid overdoses, check your HIV status, or need a safe space to be, Wellness Services Inc. of Flint is the place to go.