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Vida/SIDA celebrates 25 years with gala on World AIDS Day
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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About 75 people attended Vida/SIDA's 25th anniversary gala event, "Celebrating 25 Milestones in 25 Years of Community Building," at the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture Dec. 1.

Ahead of the gala celebration a vigil, dedication of the new Vida/SIDA offices and an open house took place in honor of World AIDS Day.

Founded in 1988, the Vida/SIDA Bartolo Hernandez de Jesus HIV/AIDS Initiative—a project of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center's ( PRCC ) mission—aims to, according to its website, "To educate, advocate and empower Chicago's Puerto Rican/Latino community by promoting culturally responsive health care/resources that enable health affirming behaviors and attitudes."

Jose Lopez, executive director of the PRCC, spoke about the contributions Vida/SIDA has made over the last 25 years and introduced Dr. Roberto Sanabria, founder and member of the PRCC Board of Directors and director of Equal Opportunity and Access at Northwestern University, who provided the evening's opening remarks.

"I never thought that Vida/SIDA would've been around for 25 years. It's bittersweet. Back in 1988, HIV/AIDS was something that was devastating our community. I could never imagine we would be around in 2013 dealing with this disease," said Sanabria.

Sanabria went on to praise the work that Juan Calderon, director of Vida/SIDA and chief operations officer of the PRCC, has done including the creation of a Trans* Beauty Pageant to celebrate trans* individuals as well as others who've been involved with Vida/SIDA over the years. Then Sanabria spoke about the history of the ACT-UP movement as well as Vida/SIDA's role in raising HIV/AIDS awareness in the early years of the disease.

The 2012 Vida/SIDA annual report highlights were shared by Calderon following Sanabria's opening remarks. Calderon explained that Vida/SIDA is the last remaining institution that is Latino focused in the Midwest that hasn't been swallowed up by a larger organization and they will be expanding their services in the coming year.

Ruth Mendez, supervisor of the Vida/SIDA Affordable Care Act ( ACA ) program, noted that they received a grant from the federal and state governments to assist people in signing up for the ACA. Mendez explained that they have in person counselors and navigators within Vida/SIDA and they have helped over 8,000 people sign up for coverage.

Jackie Gonzalez, program director for El Rescate LGBTQ Independent Living Program, said that they have expanded the shelter to include 25-30 beds and are teaching the youth that they service skills on how to live including interviewing for jobs so they are ready for the future. Calderon stated that the shelter started with no funding, however, there is currently a $400,000/year budget.

Rounding out the evening's events, Judge Beatriz Santiago presented awards to three groups/individuals who've made an impact in the community.

The Northwest Side Illinois Legislative Latino/a Caucus received the Bartolo Hernandez de Jesus Gratitude Award. State. Rep. Luis Arroyo accepted the award on behalf of the caucus and in his remarks he mentioned Illinois' recent marriage equality victory.

Dora Garcia, associate executive director of Alivio Medical Center received the Bartolo Hernandez de Jesus Community Service Award and Carmen Velazquez, executive director of Alivio Medical Center received the Bartolo Hernandez de Jesus Lifetime Achievement Award.

See and for more information.

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