The Collective Impact Network (CIN) is a Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) sponsored initiative, being co-led by PAN acting as the backbone. It consists of the six PHSA-contracted agencies that are supporting the community-based response to HIV and HCV, alongside the PHSA, and including the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and BC Women’s Hospital.
The goal of the CIN is to facilitate collaboration on priority areas that will best support people living with HIV and HCV and the frontline organizations that serve them. In the coming weeks we will be featuring each agency, and what they bring to the CIN… so you can get to know them, hear some stories and meet the people!
Sarah Chown, Executive Director
YouthCO is a youth-led HIV and Hep C organization that seeks to reduce stigma related to HIV and Hep C throughout BC through peer education and support. We are an organization of young leaders who work to affect meaningful change through peer support, education and community engagement. We strive to foster inclusive communities where youth empower youth to make informed decisions about our own well-being. As the Executive Director at YouthCO, part of my role is to ensure our work is informed by our six values (including anti-oppressive, youth-driven, and a Squamish teaching related to generosity) and four approaches (including harm reduction and shared leadership).
YouthCO is part of the Collective Impact Network, and our specific funding is focused on peer education and peer support for youth living with HIV and Hep C across the province. We are also working with partners from the CIN and beyond to get input from high school students on British Columbia’s sex education curriculum, to ensure Indigenous youth perspectives are included in policy advocacy work around substance use, and to get a better understanding of what else is needed when it comes to Hepatitis C supports.
Personally, what led you into taking on your role?
I came to YouthCO because the values we hold resonate with my own approach to HIV and Hep C work that I developed as a volunteer, graduate student, and educator, and the idea of working at an organization where values featured prominently in the day-to-day was enticing. I knew that I would learn a lot being part of a peer-led, values-driven organization, and that has most definitely been true in the three years I have been here. I often say that the most rewarding and most challenging part of my role is working to stay accountable to our values. More so than any organization I have been a part of, our values are integrated in our day-to-day work and it is part of our work pace and work culture to think about these values while we are making decisions. That said, we certainly don’t always get it right and we’re always still learning about how we can deepen the way we practice our values. I love that a big part of my job at YouthCO is to advocate for the partnerships we are a part of, such as the Collective Impact Network and research teams, to make sure these values have been considered in our joint work.
Can you tell a story that excites you about the impact your work is having?
Before I came to YouthCO, I spent many years in summer camp programs, as a camper and as a counsellor. The fact that Camp Moomba, a program for youth from 6 to 17 years old who are living with HIV, who have a close family member living with HIV, and are bereaved of HIV, was in the process of merging with YouthCO was also extremely enticing. What better way to bring together my silly camp counsellor self with my commitment to changing the way society thinks about HIV? Since I have been at YouthCO, I have also been the Camp Director for two summer camps and coming up on three winter camp programs. Getting to know the families who participate in our programs has shaped how YouthCO is able to talk about the specific HIV-related needs of youth who are born with HIV. There is also an incredible network of Camp Moomba alumni who advocate for continued funding, use the skills and experiences gained at camp to support each other, and challenge HIV stigma. While it is difficult to choose just one anecdote, last year’s all-camp HIV trivia session was a huge highlight. Campers were divided into teams with campers of all ages, with names they chose themselves, such as “Farting Unicorns”. We then had teams race to give the right answer to various interactive trivia challenges, such as using their bodies to spell HIV, drawing what HIV looks like, or listing three ways HIV cannot be passed. My very favourite moment was seeing every single camper enthusiastically answer “true” to the statement, “Those of us living with HIV can have babies.” Campers also went on to tell each other, at length, they could also have HIV-negative babies, if they keep seeing their doctors and taking their medication. This half hour of trivia is exactly what peer education and peer support should look like.
What is the unique value that your agency brings to the Collective Impact Network (CIN) and its priority areas?
As a member of the Collective Impact Network, we are able to learn from the work that other agencies are doing, and have the opportunity to synergize the work we all do in response the impact HIV and Hep C has across British Columbia. Whether agencies are population specific, like YouthCO’s focus on those of us under 30, or have organizational memberships, like Pacific AIDS Network, all of us are grappling with the tension between meeting people’s immediate needs (like through our scholarship program) and long-term change. This includes challenging myths related to HIV, Hep C, and substance use, creating supportive policies (e.g. recent expansion of treatment eligibility criteria for those of us living with Hep C), reforming the ways laws punish those of us who are most marginalized (e.g. criminalization of HIV non-disclosure), and ensuring adequate funding.
So far, what have you learnt – or how has your work been enhanced – by being a part of the network?
The Collective Impact Network helps us to recognize and affirm each other’s work to address these issues, which are much too big for any one of us to tackle alone.
How can (and why should) readers get involved with your agency?
All the involvement and volunteering opportunities are here, or you could chip in financially, or help spread awareness of what we do through social media.
Questions? Feedback? Get in touch!
Simon Goff, Executive Assistant and Collective Impact Coordinator, [email protected]