Janine was recently diagnosed with HIV. When she told her partner of the diagnosis, he kicked her out.
Ironically, it was her birthday.
Alone, frightened and homeless, Janine went to the Kansas City Free Health Clinic for help. The clinic provided her with free medical care, case management services that helped her get emergency housing and a peer counselor to help ease her fears.
Janine’s peer counselor is determined to help her through the challenges Janine faces. The peer counselor helps Janine keep doctor’s appointments, communicate with health care professionals, understand the treatment goals and follow the treatment regimen. Counselors also provide other support services and give their clients a shoulder to lean on when managing the disease overwhelms them.
The Kansas City Free Health Clinic began its peer-counseling program in September 2001. Eight peer counselors – persons who are themselves HIV positive and who keep current with the latest HIV-related information – help other HIV-positive persons like Janine. Peer counseling works because of relationships: Peer-to-peer support means that clients gain insight that can only come from someone living through similar circumstances. From their own experience of living with HIV, peer counselors develop non-judgmental relationships, and cultivate mutual respect and compassion.
“Janine doesn’t have to cope alone,” her peer counselor says. “She has the strength to live with HIV and work through the other problems that come her way. I’m determined to help her use that strength.”