“The passion you share for our work can generate a wider circle of change”

Dear Friend of The Women’s Collective,
We have much to be thankful for this holiday season and you are at the top of our list! The financial support you provide makes such a profound difference in our ability to serve women and girls in the Washington DC area.  For over twenty years TWC has provided a wide range of health and social support services, including mental health.
 
Despite changes in the health care landscape and the lack of resources available to community based organizations, TWC continues to make a difference in the lives of women, girls and their families.  Thanks to the incredible efforts of our staff, volunteers and friends like you, we remain committed to our community. 
 
As you celebrate with loved ones this holiday season, will you help us provide for families who are less fortunate? We hope you will consider TWC in your year-end giving during this holiday season. 
 
As you celebrate with loved ones this holiday season, will you help us provide for families who are less fortunate? We hope you will consider TWC in your year-end giving during this holiday season. 
Your donation can provide the following :
$10: Transportation to health and social services appointments.
$30: School supplies and a uniform for a child
$50: An HIV or Hep C test, a hot meal for a family of four
$75: Groceries for one week

$100: Individual and family therapy

You can donate by sending a check directly to The Women’s Collective, via Network for Good, or the Catalogue for Philanthropy. You can also help by inviting your friends and family to support The Women’s Collective.

The passion you share for our work can generate a wider circle of change,

thank you for your kindness and please stay in touch!
Sincerely,
 
Patricia Nalls
Founder/Executive Director 
The Women’s Collective
202-483-7003
“When I was at my lowest point, The Women’s Collective was there to not only lift me up, but to show me that I had a lot to live for.  I’m here today because of TWC!”
Donate Now
-Dana S (TWC client).

Employment Training: Lifting DC Women Out of Poverty

As The Women’s Collective’s care program targeting women living with HIV grows so does the number of women participating and the wide range of services that are required to meet their need.

Again and again we hear women identify job readiness programs that would provide education and employment support as a priority.  So many women come through our doors and express frustration around the fact that they have difficulty getting experience, finding available jobs, filling out job applications, creating an attractive resumes, and drafting an effective and compelling cover letter.

http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/report/2008/10/08/5103/the-straight-facts-on-women-in-poverty/
Center for American Progress. The Straight Facts on Women in Poverty. October, 2008.

They are desperately seeking a way out of poverty for themselves and their families—a poverty that is incredibly pervasive among women and African-Americans in D.C.  In all racial and ethnic groups, women are poorer than menBlack and Latina women are twice as likely as white women to be living in poverty. In fact poverty is the single most important factor  in whether inner-city heterosexuals are infected with the AIDS virus according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Our medical case managers take a number of steps when a woman comes in looking for a job or for help with a job application.  Often, staff members (whether it’s the medical case manager, community health worker, or even a youth team member) take the time to help clients edit their resumes, craft their cover letters, and fill out and submit their applications.  However, staff have full case loads, and are not always able to carve an hour or two out of their already packed day to work on an application or a cover letter with a client.

In addition, we make a wide range of referrals to job readiness centers throughout Washington, D.C. that provide job skills, resume assistance, mock interviews (including both the interview and “dress for success”), computer skills, on-site counseling. One relationship we have begun to forge is with Byte Back that seeks to improve economic opportunity for individuals. Their goal is to provide high quality computer courses to unemployed and underemployed residents and support them in obtaining employment that pays a “living wage.”  They also provide job readiness assistance such as mock job interviews, resume writing skills, and assistance with job searches.

Mom & Daughter 1These services are critical for the support and opportunities they provide to women but they’re not enough—services need to be more accessible as many women face barriers in accessing them. For example, women often do not have the extra funds to get to sites around the city as the costs for public transportation continues to increase. Women often do not have child care for the time that they need to attend a class or meet with a counselor. Another significant barrier is access to professional clothing for job interviews. To address this we created an onsite “clothing closet” so that our clients can find attire to wear for an interview. (Donations are always accepted for gently used clothing and shoes so stop on by with a bag or two!)

If community-based organizations (CBOs) that are already providing myriad support services for women had additional funding to hire staff, they could either free up time for their current staff to work one-on-one with women who are seeking employment search support or they could hire employment counselors and computer training specialists that would provide services on-site.  This could work in two ways: women who are in need of employment support services might be more encouraged to see their medical case managers, and check in about their care, because they’re already on-site and, likewise, women who are already on-site for any of the other services offered by a CBO would be able to take advantage of the employment support services without the added burden of additional transportation or child care.  We will be seeking ways to build this type of funding and more synergy with CBOs throughout D.C. and across a range of services.

Each service and referral that The Women’s Collective provides is important to the women we serve.   The Women’s Collective provides a combination of services for women to overcome barriers that keep them homeless and/or destitute and that prevent them from accessing care and taking control of their health.  We can only do so much—we need additional unrestricted funding and strong partnerships with CBOs so that we can continue to keep women moving forward on a path out of poverty.

The Women’s Collective will continue to foster, nurture and provide encouragement to turn a life around.

Woman-centered Supportive Services are Crucial for Women Living with HIV

The Care Team at The Women’s Collective (TWC) includes four medical case managers (MCM) and two community health workers (CHW) who work together to support our clients so that they consistently stay linked to medical care, treatment, and support services that improve their health outcomes and quality of life. The services we provide are woman-centered and family-focused, which is so necessary in the fight against HIV/ AIDS.  Globally, women make up 54% of people living with HIV. In D.C., women make up 28% of people living with HIV, and Black women represent 92% of women living with HIV. Women of color face challenges that make them more susceptible to HIV and less likely to enter and stay in care, such as gender and racial inequality, discrimination, stigma, poverty, and gender-based violence.  Despite this picture, women are often overlooked or ignored, and are underserved at other agencies.  Our services provide a safe space for women living with HIV, and meet their individual needs as mothers, caregivers, and heads of household.

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Our team provides support well beyond clients’ medical needs, in an effort to address all the issues that might interfere with their ability to enter and stay in care.  The Care Team frequently assists clients with food shortages, housing placement, career planning, emotional support, family services, and substance abuse treatment. Women come to TWC for a hot plate of food for themselves and their families in our Community Kitchen, which has food delivered twice weekly, or shop through clothing donations in our Resource Room. The Care Team provides a Play Room for children while women meet with their MCM. It’s not uncommon to see the Director of Care Programs walking around bouncing a client’s baby, while mom uses the computer in the Resource Room to find employment! In addressing the numerous issues that are specific to women as care-givers, providers, and mothers, we are offering unique services that many women living with HIV/AIDS who reside in D.C. cannot find elsewhere.

The Care Team has historically provided the Coffee House Support Group to clients as a safe space to address issues affecting their daily lives, to share resources, and to develop important social connections that break feelings of isolation. During last month’s Coffee House, harm reduction strategies were introduced to the group as a means to address risk that could compromise women’s health. Medical case managers discussed intimate partner violence (IPV)with women and a range of other topics on different ways women are at increased risk of HIV infection.  Coffee House is also fun!  We recently welcomed a dance instructor to teach some line dances!

The Care Team has also introduced a range of social support groups in response to the varied and nuanced needs of the women we serve. For example, we now have a support group for women who are living with HIV/AIDS who love women.  In April, the Care Team will debut additional support groups that will provide clients with various life skills and emotional support.  Be sure to keep up with our calendar of events to see all of our upcoming groups!

We look forward to using this space to showcase the needs of the women we serve and the myriad ways we meet those needs as women, mothers, and caregivers.

Welcome to The Women’s Collective’s Blog, ‘Collectively Speaking’

The Women’s Collective (TWC) started 20 years ago as a phone line in my kitchen, and it grew into the only woman- and girl-focused HIV service provider in Washington, D.C. Back when we started women and girls were not considered vulnerable to the disease and yet there we were – isolated, fearing for our lives, and wondering who would care for our children. TWC grew out of the collective need of a group of diverse women who each thought they were alone and were determined to ensure that other women would not feel that way.

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Today, TWC provides HIV testing services, linkage to care, medical case management, mental health services, youth and intergenerational programming, education and outreach, and advocacy — among myriad other services that support women in achieving better health outcomes over their lifespan. We’re incredibly excited to use this space to share our voices about not only the work that we’re doing for women and girls living with and at risk for HIV, but also our perspective on the needs and experiences of women and girls in the epidemic and the intersecting issues that affect their lives and well-being.

These conversations have never been more relevant.  Society has become fond of proclaiming the end to –isms (an end to racism, an end to sexism, etc.), all while ignoring staggering levels of inequality based on race, gender, class, etc. The economic security of women and girls is paramount to overcoming poverty and inequalities, yet remains elusive to women, especially women of color.

The added burden of HIV creates an even more challenging position for women.  The National Women’s Law Center published an infographic on March 14, 2014 showcasing significant inequalities: women make up 47% of the overall workforce and 76% of the low-wage workforce; women of color make up 16% of the overall workforce and 37% of the low-wage workforce. These statistics highlight a real problem that impacts real women, and that impact is even greater when women are living with HIV/AIDS.  Women face real pressure to find full-time employment, not only to be able to feed, shelter, and clothe themselves and their families, but to get access to the “best health care delivery system in the world” – at least, according to House Speaker John Boehner and Fox News.

Living with HIV increases the intensity of that pressure, with the added stresses of needing health care to cover medications and medical appointments and needing stable housing to secure and safely store medication…you get the idea.  It also increases the likelihood of discrimination – people with HIV are routinely stigmatized based on misinformation and outdated ideas of what it means to live with HIV.  Without the income to take care of all of those basic needs, and the needs of their family members (because, let’s face it, women are still the primary caregivers in our society), women living with HIV/AIDS struggle to find the financial resources and the time to enter care and stay in care.

Each week you’ll hear from me, TWC staff members, and women living with HIV/AIDS who will reflect on these trends and issues, our experiences, and on the future for women living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.  We look forward to reflecting on where we’ve been, sharing our work, and thinking about new directions for TWC. We hope that our blog will inspire you to join the conversation!

Pat’s Story

Pat and TiffanyIn 1987, after losing her husband and 3-year-old daughter to AIDS within six months of each other, Patricia Nalls, Founderand Executive Director of The Women’s Collective, learned that she was HIV positive. At the time of her diagnosis, there were few, if any services designed specifically for women living with and at risk for HIV/AIDS in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. In fact, at the time, few people understood or acknowledged that women could be, and were being, infected with HIV.

Pat found herself repeatedly trying to receive support and services in an environment that catered mainly to gay men. As a single mother, her family’s needs were different and distinct from those of men. Like many women, she frequently found herself in situations where she faced challenges, not only as a woman, but also as a single head of household. While the men in the support group were having conversations about their single lifestyles, Pat worried about how to disclose her status to her children, how to deal with the grief her children were experiencing, and who would take care of her children if she got sick or died. It was a time fraught with anxiety by the secret of her diagnosis, which began as despair yet ultimately turned into the determination to live to see her children grow to adults.

Eventually, in 1990, to receive and give support to other women in similar situations, Pat set-up a private phone line in her home for women living with HIV to share their struggles and concerns. The phone line, which she advertised through flyers in her doctor’s office, gave her and the women she spoke to strength and hope in knowing that other women in their community were in similar situations, dealing with similar worries.

In 1992, the phone line, kept secret because of the stigma that existed, transformed into a support group as the number of women affected by the epidemic increased. The group called itself the Coffee House to allow women to freely participate without having to worry about disclosing their HIV status. It provided a safe space for women to come together and laugh, cry, share resources, and gain strength from each other. The group proved to be a powerful vehicle for women. As their numbers grew, so did their knowledge of HIV care and services.

In 1995, a friend involved as a volunteer supporting the Coffee House, suggested that the women incorporate as a non-profit organization. The Women’s Collective was the name stated on the application to the Internal Revenue Service. A Board of Directors was established and new energy and skills were injected into the Coffee House. The goal was to support women and their families and to realize a vision of creating a full-fledged, woman-focused organization. Board members organized events, set up training sessions, and slowly began to identify funding sources, enabling support group members to realize their vision. Women in the Coffee House also began advocacy efforts with local providers, policymakers, and the District of Columbia Department of Health.

Over the course of 20 years, The Women’s Collective has evolved from the single vision of one woman to the collective vision of many women. Because of the efforts of committed women, coupled with support from community allies, volunteers, and funders, the organization has transformed itself from a dining room support group to a full-fledged 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Through grants that focused on institutional strengtheninga strong administrative and programmatic infrastructure was created to support a growing number of HIV care and prevention services. Advocacy projects were initiated that focus on influencing HIV policy in the United States and globally by mobilizing women living with or at risk for HIV/AIDS to give voice to their concerns.