Before any student-athlete can participate in one of The Grassroot Project programs, they must attend four training sessions that are led by existing coaches and administration. During these training sessions, attendees will read and learn about The Grassroot Coaches Handbook, which outlines the key messages, lessons, and games that make up the foundation of The Grassroot Project.
During my freshman year at The George Washington University, I attended my first Grassroot training session. Because I was a public heath major, I had already studied about infectious diseases in some of my classes and had a little more knowledge about HIV/AIDS than the other freshmen. Most of the new Grassroot trainees were shocked at the alarming statistics that expose the heavy burden of HIV/AIDS in DC, such as 1 in 20 people being HIV Positive.
I was not prepared for the long-lasting, powerful impact that attending my first Grassroot program would have on me. Although I spent hours reading about health disparities and listening to lectures on HIV/AIDS, stepping inside the world of the at-risk population for just two short hours gave this awful disease life. Seeing children whose families, friends, and communities were directly affected by HIV/AIDS was overwhelming. Previously, HIV/AIDS was just something I had read about; I never had a direct connection with it or knew anyone who had the disease. However, that clearly was not the case for these children. When we asked the class if any of them knew someone that had HIV/AIDS, almost every single child waved their hands in the air. Seeing all those hands resonated with me more than any statistic or report in a textbook could.
Three and a half years later and many more programs completed, I am still in disbelief every time I see the response from these young students when we ask how many of them know someone with HIV/AIDS. Being a Grassroot coach puts faces to the 1 in 20 statistic.
Acting as a positive role model to these children has also inspired me to enroll in more classes pertaining to HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness. This semester, I am taking the course, “Organizational Responses to the Local National and Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic,” which is a primarily guest-lectured class by HIV/AIDS professionals from the DC area. Listening to the experiences and information that these well-known experts share has provided me with knowledge that I am excited to bring to The Grassroot Project. Coaching the young, at-risk population in DC on ways to stay AIDS-free, while also educating them on how to keep their families and communities healthy, makes working with the Grassroot program an inimitable and fulfilling experience.
By Taylor Katz