Latinos Salud, a local non-profit providing HIV prevention, testing, counseling and linkage services, celebrated their 5th anniversary with two events this month. The agency’s Anniversary Bash was held at Georgie’s Alibi on January 24th.

“We’re very grateful to the Alibi for their support. They partnered with us to make sure every detail was covered for a great event,” said Stephen Fallon, PhD, Executive Director.

On January 28th, Michael Murphy Photography Studios celebrated its 23rd anniversary, and chose to turn its own anniversary into a benefit for the agency.

“I decided to help raise funds after I watched Latinos Salud grow from a youth based Latino outreach program to a multi-faceted community based HIV program. They've come a long way in 5 years,” said Murphy.

Latinos Salud opened its doors in January 2009 with its SOMOS program, which provides HIV prevention education for Latino gay men 18 to 30 years old.

“The state had released a report showing that new HIV infections among gay Latinos had increased 185 percent, and most of that increase hit the younger age brackets,” said Rafaelé Narváez, Director of Health Programs, and the agency’s co-founder. “So there was an urgent need to serve this community, especially reaching those who emigrated to the U.S. from countries that have little safer sex education.”

Since Broward’s HIV rates are also high among older Latinos, in 2010 the agency expanded its services to Latino guys of all ages through its JUNTOS program. “JUNTOS teaches guys to take a leadership role, and talk with their peers about HIV and STDs,” Narváez said.

The small agency quickly found its space was not large enough to serve all the guys coming in. They moved in late-2010 to the Wilton Drive storefront location.

“While we focus on the Latino community, it wasn’t long before clients asked us to expand our roster again to serve their partners and friends, too, many of whom are not Latino,” Fallon said. “During the past three years, we’ve added four new programs and services, including two types of Life Coaching, the Free, Safe & Proud outreach program to local clubs and gay guesthouses, free HIV rapid testing (which is now mobile), and Linkage services for anyone living with HIV,“ noted Johnathan Medina, Counseling Services Coordinator. Narváez added that currently about one-in-five of the agency’s participants are non-Latinos.

Describing the linkage services, Linkage Specialist Gregory Timmer said, “In some instances, a client just needs a friendly face to lend moral support on a first doctor’s visit. Some clients had been afraid to access Ryan White services, because they thought they had to prove their immigration status. In those cases, we act as a bridge to the area’s Ryan White providers.”

Local guys surveyed have been excited about the free programs that the agency offers. They listed the benefits they got from the agency’s programs: being more involved in the community, living a healthier life, learning new things, making new friends, and spending time with people they can relate to.

The agency is open on Wilton Drive, Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturdays 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Check out their website at LatinosSalud.org