Cornell MPH student helps local community members living with HIV

When Steven Shelley, a member of the Master of Public Health program’s first cohort, contacted the Southern Tier AIDS Program, he envisioned helping out with educational and fundraising events. But what they really needed was someone to answer phones. Unfazed, Shelley jumped on the reception desk, where he now spends two to three hours each week.

“I greet clients as they come in, make sure they’re in a comforting environment and offer them coffee, tea – whatever they need to make them feel comfortable,” said Shelley.

He also directs clients to whichever services they need from the Southern Tier AIDS Program. The non-profit organization manages healthcare for people living with HIV, helps them secure housing, offers STD testing, and has a re-entry program to help formerly incarcerated people reintegrate into society. They also provide a free, confidential syringe exchange program to reduce the spread of bloodborne disease among people who inject drugs. Their main office is in Binghamton, but they have satellite offices in Johnson

The STAP staff at the Ithaca office

City, and also in Ithaca, where Shelley volunteers.

“It’s a great place,” said Shelley. “There’s no judgment. They’re meeting people where they are and trying to help them where they’re at.” The program is dedicated to harm reduction – making risky behaviors safer to reduce the negative impact on the individual.

Previously, Shelley had shadowed a physician who works with individuals who are HIV-positive for a year, so he was familiar with the challenges and stigma that they face. He has learned that it’s important to create safe spaces for individuals, in order to offer the best healthcare.

Shelley hopes to continue volunteering with the Southern Tier AIDS Program until he graduates in May. After graduation, he plans to put his degree and experiences to work, performing disease investigations at a state or federal public health agency.

By Patricia Waldron