Maria Talks/STD411, AIDS Action Committee’s assistance programs for youth

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January 28, 2011
By: Joe Siegel/TRT ReporterBOSTON-AIDS Action Committee has designed 2 programs to inform youth about a variety of topics, including HIV/AIDS, pregnancy, birth control, sexual violence, and coming out as a GLBTQ individual.
Maria Talks – www.mariatalks.com, was launched nearly two years ago with funding from the Massachusetts Department of  Public Health. There is also a hotline for people who need guidance. Volunteers provide information, support, and make appropriate statewide referrals. The target population is youth between the ages of 13 and 24 years old.

Prior to the launch of the hotline and website, the organization conducted  extensive interviews with experts in the categories of family planning, HIV/STI prevention, domestic violence, sexual assault and youth services, in addition to  facilitating youth focus groups in order to better gauge what teenagers understand about emergency contraception and to identify some of the barriers that exist that might make it difficult for youth to access these services. Maria Talks has a link to clinics and services which specialize in these subjects. AAC also conducts presentations to the community and provides technical assistance to people working with youth.

Maria Talks is aimed toward adolescents of many different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“One of the goals (with the site) is to be as inclusive as possible,” said Katie Boos, AAC’s Manager of Public Information and Multimedia Programs. “We rely on stories from a lot of the youth that we interviewed in the development of the site to sort of get at the diversity of youth experience. Maria is a Latina but she has friends who are of different races and ethnicities who have different situations that they talk about that are related to their sexual health.”

The response to Maria Talks has been positive, said Boos: “We have had a lot of feedback from youth and people working with youth that this is a helpful tool and referral site for them to send people to.”

The other program is STD411 – www.std411.org – which provides information and referrals to residents of Massachusetts about sexually transmitted diseases. The site offers links to clinics and offers guidance for people who may have contracted an STD. There is also a hotline.
STD 411 was launched in September 2008 and targets 18-29 year-olds in urban areas of the state. Researchers were noticing a growing number of STD infections among the younger population so the campaign was designed to reach them, Boos explained.

The site has been well-received, averaging 1500 hits a month.

“One of the goals with this campaign was to find other ways to reach people in the community using newer technology,” Boos noted. “If someone wants additional information specific to their situation, they can follow up by calling or e-mailing us.”

Boos said an effort has been made to reach out to people under 30 via social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Maria Talks has a Facebook fan page.

“We try to use that as a way to connect with youth across the state,” Boos added.

Founded in 1983, AIDS Action is not for profit, community health organization which provides free, confidential services to 2,500 men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS as well as prevention services to thousands of men, women and youth who are not living with HIV or do not know their status.