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In her role as community mobilization coordinator at Evergreen Health affiliate Community Access Services, Arica Rouse works to establish resources and educate individuals so they can live their healthiest lives. Arica has always been motivated to find ways to help the community, from her days working in foster care and with individuals with development disabilities. With CAS, she found a career that is uniquely her—she is able to help people, educate them and educate herself.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the work you do? I know you’re a community mobilization coordinator?
Right. I do a lot. I help with some of the social media and event planning. I help to strengthen and create relationships with community partners. I reach out and reconnect with agencies to provide services. I also work with peer group programs, Peer-to-Peer and CLEAR, so I facilitate trainings for them. Pre-COVID, I would observe their continuing education in the community.
How to do you explain Community Access Services to people?
CAS is really in the heart of the community. 14215 is one of those zip codes that is just disproportionally affected by HIV. We’re in the community, so you can come right to us. It’s convenient. Much of the staff resembles the population that we serve, so we take pride in that. We provide pantry services. You don’t find too many pantry services in the 14215. It’s convenient for them to walk here.
What drew you to this type of community work?
Oh my gosh, well I have worked in human services for years starting with working with individuals with developmental disabilities. I’ve worked in foster care. I’ve worked for the county. Really what drew me to Evergreen and CAS was the diversity. And working in sexual health is such an interesting and fulfilling role. I don’t think anyone else gets to do condom demonstrations and play with lube–see what condom is better. This is a daily thing. I get to go on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and inform the community about what we’re doing. This kind of work is very “me.” I’m helping people, educating people and educating myself. I don’t see myself doing anything else.
What has been the reaction of the community when you talk about lube and condoms?
All kinds. A lot of young people, they might know about condoms. But you’ll find still don’t know to check the expiration date or they all think they need magnums. So, let’s have a conversation, because you might not. And if you don’t think it makes a difference, it does. It might slide off. Then you could have an unplanned pregnancy or risk an STI. Breaking it down like that makes them understand.
I love the dental dam demonstrations. It’s just fun and entertaining. They’re like, “Oh my god I’ve never even heard of this.” So, I say, “Go ahead. Taste it. See if you like it.” And they’re like, “Oh! This is good!”
With seniors, it’s refreshing to have them open up to you because there’s a stigma, and I don’t want to say that it’s just within communities of color, I think it’s an overall stigma that seniors can’t have sex. Well, sex doesn’t stop at a certain age. You can have sex as long as you want. I educate women about lube. A lot of times we go through changes, whether it’s hormones or surgeries. Lube helps us with that! Their eyes kind of open like, “Wow! My doctor never even told me that.” I am 100% rewarded when I can tell somebody something maybe healthcare provider never even mentioned before.
I know CAS has also been really focused on letting the community know that you can help connect them to primary healthcare.
A lot of patients need a primary care provider. Whatever they need, we can get them linked to. There have been a lot of times when I’ve called providers and they’ve sent somebody out to get the patient enrolled right on the spot.
Have patients expressed that they tried to do it themselves and had trouble, or that they didn’t know where to begin?
Either that, or they’re working with somebody and that person is taking forever to do it. Sometimes, patients aren’t that great at reading. Some of the population is not that good with technology or even using the phone. It’s always helpful for them to have us to advocate for them.
Can you tell me about an experience with a patient that left an impact on you?
I’m looking at the poem now. I had a CLEAR program [the clear program stands for Choosing Life: Empower, Action, Results and is described as one-on-one meetings to set and accomplish life goals] participant and she was serious about these five sessions. She wrote this poem. In her early days, she had some of her work published but then she had some substance problems and got away from it. So, she wrote this poem and I’m telling you, it blew me away. I have it hanging on my desk and I look at it all the time. It’s a reminder of how this program impacted her and how it impacts others. People have told me that sometimes they pick up things from CLEAR that they didn’t get from counseling.
Why do you think that is?
CLEAR is a path for your future. The whole program is only five sessions but it is concentrated. We want you to visualize your ideal self, your highest, best self, so you can get to achieve your goals. Even though we only meet for those allotted times, we are thinking at years down the road. We’re looking ahead.
Does CAS have anything planned for Black History Month?
For the month of February, we’re trying to get people to come in and get tested. We put some beautiful baskets together. They’ve got condoms, vibrators, candles, room spray and local business raffle donations. We’re really excited about it.
What types of things do you like to do when you’re not working?
Netflix and chill! And that’s because of the pandemic, obviously. I don’t feel safe going out to eat, which I loved doing previously. And my niece, I love having her over. My sister’s work schedule has kind of changed so I’m helping her and her fiancé out. I just love her. She’s four and a Scorpio, just like me! I like a nice drive, even when you don’t even know where you’re going. Again, that’s just since the pandemic. Just driving and clearing your head.
So, last question, what Netflix series should we all be watching right now?
Well, I just finished Bridgerton. It was very good. It’s got scandal, steamy salaciousness. It starts off a little slow but by episode two, I was like, “Oh this is what’s going on?” I’m locked in.
At Evergreen, we are proud to work alongside our affiliates to ensure access to and provide affordable healthcare to all Western New Yorkers in an environment that is inclusive, compassionate, respectful and judgment-free. Thank you, Arica, for being an indispensable team member!