Updated: Aug 23
By Eduardo Morales, Ph.D.
The global pandemic of COVID-19 and the current “delta” COVID variant fosters challenges for businesses accustomed to conduct services in person or face-to-face. The health ordinances calling for “shelter in place” by local and state governments prevented businesses to conducted business as usual. This included health providers like AGUILAS. Founded in 1991 by community members AGUILAS was formed to provide advocacy and leadership for Latinx LGBTQ community in San Francisco. Since 1995 AGUILAS was funded to provide HIV prevention services to Latinx gay and bisexual men through interventions that included group, and individual sessions, outreach and recruitment, as well as HIV, Sexually Transmitted Infections (SDI), and hepatitis C (hep C) testing in collaboration with UCSF Alliance Health. These services were primarily funded by the SF Department of Public Health-AIDS Office. At AGUILAS some immigrant program participants need assistance in the establishing their legal status. To address this need, AGUILAS provides referrals and individual session to manage their traumatic experiences to these immigrant program participants so they can obtain political asylum and stay in the U.S. while at the same time help manage their health risk for prevention of various infections. Luckily, to date 100% of those who sought assistance have been successful in obtain legal status and able to stay in the U.S. In the Northern California region there are many who are Brazilian and prefer to speak Portuguese. Consequently, AGUILAS provides all of its services in English, Spanish, and Portuguese which is seldom if ever available in the health system of care in our region and in the state of California.
AGUILAS was able to reduce the digital divide common among the Latinx communities by instructing participants to engage in the various internet platforms. During the past several years program participants needed instruction, encouragement, mentoring, and coaching in how to use the internet and social media for obtaining information and resources. Little did AGUILAS realize that these efforts were critical for the unexpected and extended time of being “sheltered in place” due to COVID-19. Health mandates placed a heavy reliance in providing services through various internet platforms on a regular basis. Encouraging COVID testing as well as being vaccinated for COVID became a primary effort of AGUILAS for the health and well-being of Latinx gay and bisexual men engaged in our activities. During this past fiscal year, AGUILAS was able to exceed its contractual expectations in the numbers of persons and the number of interventions it provided. The isolation and loneness many persons expressed during the “shelter in place” mandate required us to address this as part of AGUILAS’ re-entry plans.
As the news of lifting the “shelter in place” health mandates occurred, AGUILAS made sure all of its staff were vaccinated for COVID as part of the plan for re-entry and to begin providing services in person. After a long time doing work from home, AGUILAS staff established regular in office hours, and we focused on enhancing the spirit of teamwork. On June 5 and June 12 AGUILAS had two one-day retreats at the SF LGBT Center for its program participants where they could attend various skill building workshops, obtain health screening tests, and begin to interact with attendees. The recommendations of social distancing and wearing of facial masks were encouraged for the two one-day retreats. Given the success of these two Saturday retreat events, AGUILAS had a social event on Thursday evening of July 28 where attendees obtained health screening tests, were introduced to our new staff, reconnected with their friends, and were informed of new program activities that were just funded.
Meanwhile, AGUILAS continues to monitor safety conditions to prevent the spread of COVID. It plans a slow re-entry in offering services using a hybrid method involving various internet platforms and offering services in person or face to face on a limited basis. In this past year additional funding was obtained from California Office of AIDS to expand and enhance AGUILAS’ services. With ViiV Foundation funding AGUILAS will revive its leadership development training and certificate program called “La Academia de AGUILAS” for Latinx LGBTQ. Check the website sfaguilas.org as plans develop. In mid-September, AGUILAS together with the SF LGBT Center and the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District will unveil San Francisco’s Pulse Memorial to be located on the second floor of the SF LGBT Center and funded by SF City and County. For the first time the four national ethnic psychological associations along with PROVOC and Providence as consultant agencies launched time a #wellnessforall campaign for people of color from July 13 to August 13 on Facebook and Instagram. This national resource for persons of color for their mental health and well-being may become an annual event. With careful planning and by combining various resources AGUILAS looks forward to an active and engaging re-entry.