Even though he has improved his life, he is still estranged from his family. However, Vassilarakis says he doesn't wish to reunite with them--he now calls
his best friends his family.
"You don't choose what family you're born into, but you absolutely choose who you surround yourself with," he says. "I love where I am in my life, and I
love the people I have around me and they've accepted me, and most of the people I have in my life are not even gay; they are straight people who accept me
Vassilarakis' mother has made attempts to reach out to him recently, but he is very hesitant to reach out to her. Even though he has forgiven her, he
hasn't forgotten that a lot of his problems were caused by his mother's abandonment. Vassilarakis' life is going well, and it has been a long time since he
has had to deal with his issues with his mother.
"I've learned how to live without her and the family," he says. "I've made my peace with it."
* * *
New York City's Sweeney says she believes community outreach is effective because New York used to be 19 percent of the epidemic in the United States, and it's dropped to
But HIV organizations in Harlem say the rate of HIV is still too high, primarily because people have an attitude that they cannot get the virus. However,
it's not for a lack of outreach that the rate is so high, they say.
Harlem United focuses on HIV testing, says Kimberleigh Smith, the group's senior director for state and local policy. The organization has spent the past
few years amending the public health law in New York State so that more people can get tested as a routine part of their medical care. Now, any time a
person between the ages of 13 and 64 visits the doctor, the doctor is required to offer an HIV test.
"Just deciding you should have an HIV test based on, maybe you're gay, or whether you're black, is outdated," Smith says. "To really combat HIV you need to
get as many people tested as possible in a routine way, and it needs to be a part of their medical health care."
She says in New York Medicaid is successful at providing people healthcare and there is also an AIDS drug assistance program in the state. While there are
waiting lists in other states, Smith says, there aren't any in New York. However, she says there are still many people who don't know how to use the public
"From the onset poverty can shape how you access health care, how you understand your own health," Smith says. "Poor people are less likely to get what
Recently, many faith-based organizations have joined the fight and created outreach programs, some of them funded by the Black Leadership Commission on
"Many more houses of worship are involved in this initiative, partly because we created a space for them and we actually help them help themselves develop
a curriculum and a language," says Deborah Levine, who has been involved in the public health industry since 1986, and is a part of a program called the
New York City Council Faith-Based Initiative. "If people aren't properly trained to understand how the virus is spread that's how you get people spreading