ALHI receives grant to broaden services

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imageThe Atlanta Lesbian Health Initiative is among four community-based organizations sharing $60,000 to link health organizations with researchers from Emory, Morehouse School of Medicine and Georgia Tech.

The Community Engagement & Research Program of the Atlanta Clinical & Translational Science Institute has granted the money to the groups, which include the Atlanta-based, LGBT-inclusive AIDS Alliance for Faith and Health and Atlanta Lesbian Health Initiative.

The money, which will be split evenly between the four groups–half this year and half over the course of 2011–goes towards a two-year program that operates in two phases, says Linda Ellis (photo), executive director of ALHI.

“During the first year, it trains non-profit organizations to have better understanding of academic research and how it benefits them,” Ellis says. “At the same time, it trains researchers to better understand the needs of the community-based orgs.

“Then they will match researchers with the programs to work together on the creation of pilot projects to address community-identified health disparities and submit proposals together,” she adds. “We’ll be at an advantage to work with them, and they’re better able to hone their research. It’s a win win across the board.”

ALHI will use the funds to address the need to shift women’s health messages to be more inclusive of women who are more masculine in their gender identity. Right now, standard breast health messages involve pink ribbons and lace.

“If I am a stud, and I see messages like that, I don’t see myself in those images and the idea of mammograms or breast exams is not something that comes naturally to me,” Ellis says. “What we’d like to do is take messages of women’s health and develop them to truly reach all of the women in our community.”

The CERP funding is “huge” for the organization at a time when the group is struggling financially, Ellis says. ALHI has responded to the economic downturn with budget cuts that include lowering Ellis’ salary and hours, and by partnering with Georgia Equality as the first two LGBT organizations in town to share office space at the Phillip Rush Center.

“We are at a place where as the Health Initiative, our partnership with Georgia Equality and the creation of the Rush Center has really allowed us to survive a very difficult time,” she says. “This funding in part is coming from some of the money in the [federal] stimulus package. It’s very specifically directed to help small non-profits with employee retention.”

The Rush Center was dedicated in November in memory of the late local activist who died in April 2009. The center is at the core of a recent resurgence to create an LGBT community center in Atlanta. Last week, the Lloyd E. Russell Foundation put $25,000 toward the effort, which will look at ways to expand the Rush Center.

In the meantime, Ellis and ALHI are keeping their noses to the grindstone figuring out new ways to develop the organization’s services.

“We are proudly the only non-profit in the state with the word lesbian in our name, the only one specifically addressing the needs, and are increasingly aware that we are part of a larger community,” she says. “We feel an obligation to support trans health and gay men’s health beyond HIV.

“It’s ironic and frustrating that if a gay man has HIV, the number of wonderful resources is amazing, but if you’re a gay man with prostate cancer, there are almost no options directed specifically at you,” Ellis continues. “We are trying to figure out how to keep our identity, fully participate in our community and support each other. We have a much broader idea these days as to what it means to be the Health Initative.”

The new plans include a partnership with Wellness Community at Northside Hospital. On May 1, the hospital and ALHI launched a cancer support group for LGBT people and their partners.

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