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Established in 1993 by the Women and AIDS Working Group, Iris House provides comprehensive services and advocacy for women, families, and communities infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS, while simultaneously providing prevention and education services for our clients and at-risk communities.
To fulfill this mission, Iris House offers practical, family-centered services that promote prevention and education while addressing the day-to-day realities of living with HIV/AIDS.
All of our programs are developed to achieve the following goals:
- To promote and support independent functioning for our clients, to improve quality of life, and to maintain optimum health status for clients and their families;
- To educate policy makers, elected officials, and human health service providers about the issues and concerns affecting our clients and their families; and
- To advocate for changes in policy and programs that are more responsive to the needs of women and their families.
At Iris House we save lives.
As HIV/AIDS has ravaged Harlem and the South Bronx, Iris House has stood at the vanguard, and for 18 years has fought the battles to protect women and their families from the effects of this pandemic: clinical, social, cultural and practical. We help women find their health, their dignity, their voice and their passion, and ultimately do more than save lives: we empower them to live.
Too often, our clients are caught in a downward spiral: diagnosis, depression, disability, despair, and the dedicated team at Iris House stops that desperate cycle with one of our own: The Iris House Experience.
Engage - Evaluate - Educate - Enrich -- Empower
Whether in one of our three community centers or out in the neighborhood, Iris House programs engage the community through food and nutrition programs, prevention and outreach on the streets, in the bars and where people meet. We give away more than one million condoms and safe sex kits each year through more than 100 popular businesses and street outreach, teach HIV 101 in schools and churches in New York and New Jersey, and conduct more than 3,000 screenings and HIV Rapid Tests each year. Wherever we go, we leave a committed corps of volunteers and an army of peer educators who have enlisted in Iris House’s war on HIV/AIDS.
Our team of social workers and facilitators are sensitive, passionate and dedicated. From the moment a member of the community walks through our door, they are directed to the program that might best suit their own needs: Testing, Women’s Supportive Services, Behavioral Health, Harm Reduction, Food and Nutrition or Supportive Housing. Their personalized case profile is developed and managed one-on-one as we work with them to connect them with medical care, understand where they are emotionally and help them get the services and support they need to begin living their lives again.
No one is born knowing about HIV. School programs fall short of educating teens about safe sex and relationship negotiation. Individuals struggling with depression or substance abuse need space and time to be ready to learn. Iris House has programs for all ages and experiences: one-on-one and group counseling sessions get to the core issues around personal behavior and responsibility, regular presentations by experts in the field are given during Iris House lunch hours; a two-day Summit each June brings together clients, providers and experts to talk about issues of the day; our outreach work with young people through teen interventions, Parties with a Purpose and peer groups brings the facts to kids where they live. Education is a critical part of the Iris House Experience: helping those living with HIV know about their options, and helping those who are HIV negative stay that way.
Often, when we talk about living with HIV/AIDS, we forget the most important part: Living! The team at Iris House enriches the lives of our clients through social supports, a sense of created family, activities, "feel good" experiences and occasional trips. Iris House provides computer training, life skills workshops, and lifestyle programs. We have special holiday lunches throughout the year, sponsor an end of summer picnic for women and their families (including a backpack program for school age kids!), a holiday celebration and opportunities to attend cultural events which bring some fun, joy and sense of community into the Iris House Family. A key component of the Iris House Experience is the client organization that works with the team to bring program suggestions and activities to the table.
Self-determination and an ability for women and girls to take their passion and our message back to their families, friends and communities is a critical part of our work. Many of our programs center around group learning, including our Leading Ladies and Women Helping Women program, SISTA (Sisters Informing Sisters About Topics on AIDS), SIHLE (Sisters Informing, Healing, Living and Empowering) and WILLOW (Women Involved in Life Learning From Other Women) are designed to foster gender and ethnic pride, and provide negotiation skills for women to learn how to manage their own relationships. The women in our programs watch out for each other, support each other in adhering to treatment plans, and truly become sisters.
These are the tenets of the Iris House Experience: We engage, evaluate, educate, enrich and empower. Many women who go through our programs end up as peer counselors and workshop leaders. Several have joined the team as members of the staff.
We know our programs work: At any point, more than 98% of our clients are connected to appropriate medical care; medical updates and evaluations are a part of every program. Clients find their CD4 counts rising and their Viral Loads dropping into undetectable ranges. They are finding pride in their lives, many are living independently for the first time, and those who have struggled with substance abuse are getting (and staying) clean and sober. We help them through periods of food and housing insecurity. Most importantly, we give them space to realize that they can improve their circumstances and the tools and direction to walk down that road. It’s not easy for anybody, but we know that the family of Iris House - clients, staff and volunteer army - lives with hope.