Guest Blog: ACR Health & The Q Center
Through our new guest blog feature, United Way of Central New York aims to provide a platform for our funded programs to share their stories and amplify their voices in the community.
In honor of LGBTQ+ Pride Month, United Way of Central New York invited ACR Health to contribute our first guest blog. Thank you to Marissa L. Rice, Director of Youth & Family Services for ACR Health & The Q Center, for offering a snapshot of the essential role they play in Central New York.
According to research findings from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, statistics demonstrate that: “Due to widespread school closures as a result of COVID-19, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are at risk of losing access to basic needs provided by schools. They may also be required to spend more time in unsupportive environments – including home environments where they face family rejection.” Especially during these challenging times, feelings of isolation, rejection, and loneliness, can lead to serious physical and mental health issues for some of our community’s most vulnerable youth. With support from United Way of Central New York, several programs administered through ACR Health’s Q Center, a youth center designed to provide services for LGBTQ youth and parents, have provided hope and a safe place for countless youth to thrive.
ACR Health’s Q Centers provide youth programs dedicated to creating a safe place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth, their families, and allies to gather together, foster understanding, and receive support. Located in the Central, Northern, and Mohawk Valley regions of New York State, Q Center’s programming seeks to promote equality, celebrate diversity, and continue to foster a safer, more inclusive community for all.
The Q Centers offer a range of youth services such as HIV, STD, and Hepatitis C (HCV) testing, after school drop-in programs, leadership and advocacy training, and special events for youth, families, and allies to come together. Case Management services are also available for LGBTQ youth who need assistance with housing, advocacy, medical care, mental health services, and other special needs. Case management for trans and gender-expansive families include 1×1 assessments, referrals to mental health providers, medical providers, and legal services as needed throughout their journey.
Additional services provided by the Q Center include:
Rapid Rehousing Program for LGBTQ+ Youth
This program provides a multitude of services to LGBTQ+ youth ages 18-24 experiencing homelessness, including rental assistance for up to 24 months. Clients are matched to our program based on need and are connected to a Youth Housing Case Manager, who works with clients to secure safe and affordable housing. Homeless youth and young adults will also be referred to additional resources in the community to help them live to their full potential.
LGBTQ-Affirming Sexual Health Services
The Q Center is committed to ensuring LGBTQ youth and young adults know their HIV status and receive the right information they need to stay healthy. Free HIV/STD/HCV testing is available to youth, young adults, and the community at the Q Center located at 835 Hiawatha Blvd. W. Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. by appointment only. For those in need of testing but are unable to come in for an in-person appointment, we offer free Home HIV Test Kits that we will mail at no charge. Visit acrhealth.org/testing for more information and to complete the online order form.
Mail Order Safer Sex Kits
Everyone should have access to information and resources to practice safer sex options. To increase awareness of HIV/STD/HCV and pregnancy prevention methods during COVID-19, mail order service for safer sex kits are now available free of charge. Kits can include items such as external (male) condoms, internal (female) condoms, dental dams, flavored condoms, water-based lube, and silicone-based lube. Visit YoungMensProject@ACRHealth.org for additional information and to receive a free kit.
Comprehensive Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (CAPP) Program
ACR Health’s CAPP Health Educators provide a wide variety of services to help connect LGBTQ+ young people to affirming sexual and reproductive healthcare. By combining quality education and reducing barriers to preventative healthcare, CAPP provides resources concerning: the use of contraceptives, STDs and HIV/AIDS, forming healthy relationships, consent, how partners can discuss and encourage safe sex practices during intimacy, gender and sexuality, LGBTQ+ cultural competency, and life skills
Due to COVID-19, access to sexual and reproductive health services has decreased significantly and rates of unintended pregnancy, HIV, and STDs are expected to increase substantially over the next few months, including among LGBTQ+ young people. In order to reduce these numbers, our CAPP Health Educators created the Coronatine & Condoms Pregnancy Prevention Campaign to promote safer sex practices and engage youth throughout the process.
“ACR Health recognizes that young people faced many barriers to sexual and reproductive healthcare prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 and those barriers are only going to be more difficult to overcome,” said Shelby Cusson-LaRue, Supervisor of ACR Health’s Comprehensive Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention program. “Historically we have addressed these barriers through education consisting of providing presentations in school and community settings and we are continuing to work diligently to adapt these presentations and resources to a virtual platform for teachers, students, and the community during the pandemic.”
In honor of Pride Month this June, the CAPP Team is launching a new podcast, Not Your Normal Sex Ed, hosted by two of our CAPP Health Educators, Michaela, and Chase (the authors of this blog). This podcast will help us spread accurate, sex-positive, and LGBTQ-inclusive information to help young people make responsible decisions about their sexual health. Tune in and check for updates through ACR Health’s Facebook and Instagram handle @acrhealthpp.
For more information on how to support ACR Health’s Q Center, ACR Health, and the LGBTQ community, please visit acrhealth.org/youth/Q%20Nine-counties.