At Iris House we save lives.
As HIV/AIDS has ravaged Harlem, the South Bronx and Central New Jersey, Iris House has stood at the vanguard, and for more than 20 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, men and children find their health, their dignity, their voice and their passion, and ultimately do more than save lives: we empower them to live.
Beginning in our 20th Year, Iris House expanded its mission to include other health disparities impacting our neighborhoods including diabetes, obesity, hypertension and Hepatitis C, and now engages in comprehensive care coordination programs for people battling a combination of chronic conditions.
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, street prevention in bars and where people meet, and outreach and engagement to homebound and chronically ill individuals. We have given away more than five million condoms and safe sex kits since 2009 through more than 100 popular businesses and street outreach, teach HIV 101 in schools and churches in New York and New Jersey, and conduct thousands of 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, care coordinators and peer facilitators are sensitive, passionate and dedicated. From the moment a member of the community walks through our door or we knock on theirs, 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, Care Coordination 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 chronic health conditions such as HIV, Hepatitis or Diabetes. 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 emotional wellness group 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 and Community Health Fair each spring 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 or other chronic conditions, 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, 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!), holiday celebrations and more. A key component of the Iris House Experience is the client organization that works with the professional 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 increased knowledge and emotional wellness activities, many 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: most of our clients find their health indicators improving during their work with us. 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.