The number of new HIV-AIDS cases among young people in Lucas County stopped Jesse Torrence in his tracks.
The 23-year-old Monclova Township native, fresh out of Stanford University, said he was surprised to learn that Lucas County had the highest HIV-AIDS infection rate in Ohio among people in their 20s, with many of the new infections hitting the Latino and African-American communities.
For him, it was like hearing an oncoming freight train in a dark tunnel: You can't see it, but you know it's coming.
Mr. Torrence, coordinator of Adelante, Inc.'s student Latino AIDS project, said it is designed to help Hispanic students and others jump off those tracks before the HIV-AIDS locomotive hits them.
“Before I started, I knew what everyone else knew: You can get [HIV-AIDS] through unprotected sex and [intrave- nous] drug use,” Mr. Torrence said. “But I really didn't see myself at risk until I started learning about these statistics, and for young people, it really opens your eyes.”
Using a $35,000 grant from the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, Mr. Torrence started recruiting from the high schools with the largest Hispanic populations: Waite, Libbey, and Woodward. “We wanted to create peer education and change the tide of peer approval and make it cool to do the opposite.
“A lot of times, young people think they're invincible,” Mr. Torrence said. “They believe HIV and AIDS are a problem for other groups. We want to create positive peer pressure [and] want to deliver the message that it's no longer cool to have six sex partners by the time you're 13. We want people to know it's cool to remain abstinent.”
Mr. Torrence said other youths beyond Latinos became interested in the project over the summer. Active Toledo Teens Awareness Committee is an outgrowth of the Latino AIDS prevention project and includes teens of all races.
The students said they want to use traditional teen venues like dances and such media as public service announcements during popular television shows to spread the word about HIV and AIDS and how they can prevent themselves from becoming a victim.
A dance the last weekend in October will feature Jason Martinez of WTVG-TV, Channel 13, and Shenikwa Stratford of WNWO-TV, Channel 24.
“Right now, [a lot of teens] are shocked about the information I'm giving them because they don't know,” said Athena Lane, 17, a senior at Start High School. “This is all new to them, so they are drawn in. You will have your skeptics who will always say, `Whatever,' but for the most part, they're interested.”
Miss Lane said she's been a member of the group for about four months and will be writing scripts for the public service announcements. Mr. Torrence said he hopes the TV spots, which will feature members of the Adelante group, will begin airing by the end of the year.
One of the youths the group won over was Osvaldo Perez, 16, a junior at Waite. Osvaldo, who lived in Miami before moving to Toledo four years ago, said he will help work on the public service announcements. “We're the biggest minority, but we're not informed about this,” he said.