This is a true story.
It was a typical day at the drop-in center and my phone rang. “Cyndee!” the voice said, “What are you doing tomorrow?” I recognized the voice and smiled. “I want you to come to my graduation ceremony!” she said, “I did it!”
I was there the next day to see Gigi, surrounded by friends and family, walk across the stage and proudly receive her master’s degree in social work from Howard University. As she held her diploma high, I realized the world gained not just one more amazing social worker, we gained one more beacon of hope of what is possible. Gigi’s walk across that stage started as she walked the streets.
Gigi often told the story of losing her job at a national newspaper after she began her transition from male to female. She became estranged from her family and ended up on the streets, doing sex work, because she couldn’t get another job. She used crack cocaine in order to cope with her feelings of hopelessness and with her depression. Each night she feared violence, or being arrested, but she saw no other way to survive. On one night, a date drove her to a secluded location and attacked her with a knife. She narrowly escaped with her life.
Gigi remembers the HIPS van from her time on the streets. She called us ‘the condom people’, and wondered why in the world people would be out there for ‘people like her’. She was impressed by HIPS’ open, caring attitude. It inspired her, gave her hope. When we offered her a chance to get involved as a peer educator she took her first step towards what would end up being a wonderful career of giving back to her community. Gigi’s journey from the streets to the graduation stage was challenging and full of obstacles. HIPS was there every step of the way, offering support and encouraging her to achieve her dreams.
Every day at HIPS I get to see people like Gigi take their first step. I see the light in their eyes as they discover self-worth and take their first steps towards new beginnings.
These transformations are rarely so complete, nor the journeys as far as with this graduate, but they are no less amazing. The common denominator is compassionate encouragement to take that first step. And then the nonjudgmental support and assistance in helping people reach their goals.
We sincerely appreciate your support of HIPS. This year, I’m asking you to help HIPS take one of those steps towards one of our goals. HIPS has an incredible opportunity in 2015 to dramatically increase the possibilities for our clients to meet their needs and make healthier choices in their lives. I’m hoping you’ll help us do that.
Early next year, HIPS will open the “HIPS Center for Health and Achievement.” It will be a place where our city’s most marginalized – sex workers, drug users, members of the trans community can access compassionate quality health related services and achieve their dreams.
The new center will offer harm reduction services like our drop-in center, showers, clothing closet, syringe access, counseling – with medical services, mental health counseling, job training, and drug treatment. The new center will vastly increase the options we are able to offer to our clients and reduce obstacles they face in their journey towards self-sufficient, healthy, and self-determined lives.
We’ve already received support in building the vision and collaboration for the new center with support from the DC Department of Health, the Washington AIDS Partnership, MAC AIDS Fund and AIDS United. What HIPS needs is to raise the remaining $150,000 to support the actual construction of the drop-in, showers, medical room, counseling rooms, kitchen, and staff spaces. I’m asking if you can help us get there.
We are so grateful for your donation in 2014. It helped HIPS give critical services to people who need acceptance, non-judgment, and our wide range of services to help them get through the day or realize a new goal.
I am asking you to help us bring this amazing center to fruition. Your gift will be complemented in so many ways by a ‘low-bono’ architectural design services firm, pro-bono legal support, donated furniture and access to discounted and free building supplies. You will not only help ensure a first-of-its-kind co-located center for services in DC, but also lift HIPS’ national profile as we increasingly become a model for similar programs to study and emulate in other regions.
Thank you so much. We value your support and hope you will consider making a ‘stretch’ gift for 2014 to help this center become a reality. There are only a few days left -- please take just a moment and donate today.
Cyndee & the rest of the HIPS Team
PS -- Want to make a recurring donation of $10 a month or more? You can do that through Razoo!