Katharine Cioe, Windham AIDS Program Intern


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Below, Katharine Cioe writes about her experience as an intern at the Windham AIDS Program in Willimantic, Connecticut.

Background:

My name is Katharine Cioe. I am a senior at the University of Connecticut-Storrs. I am majoring in Biology on the pre-med track with a minor in human rights. I have always been fascinated with human rights and have devoted many hours to community service throughout my life. My initial interest in medicine and helping people sparked my passion for human rights. In high school, I started my own chapter of a national non-profit organization, BuildOn, and fundraised to build a new school in Haiti. I also became a certified volunteer EMT and CPR instructor. I have instructed numerous CPR certification workshops and was an active volunteer on the Westport ambulance. Additionally, I volunteered with the Bridgeport School Volunteer Association and tutored an elementary students three times a week for three years in high school. I still maintain a strong relationship with that student and tutor her on school breaks and over the summer. Last summer, I completed an internship at the Yale Child Study Center. I assisted on a research project that utilized fMRI neurofeedback as a method of treating pediatric OCD. All of my volunteer experiences have fueled my desire to become involved in human rights.

My Internship this Fall:

This semester, I am interning at the Windham AIDS Program (WAP) in Willimantic, Connecticut. The Windham AIDS Program provides the people of Windham County who are HIV positive with bilingual services which include: case management services, specialized children’s case management services, housing assistance, a Drop-In center where clients can relax and use the computer, phone, or printer, and a food voucher program. The agency also conducts many public health workshops within the community on sexually transmitted diseases. WAP has a significant role within the larger pursuit of human rights because this non-profit organization provides support for the infected population and works to educate the public on AIDS and other infectious diseases. WAP seeks to increase awareness of AIDS as a human rights issue and to remove the stigma associated with HIV positive individuals. The case managers at WAP also attend meetings at the Capitol to help persuade lawmakers to increase funding for AIDS-related programs in Connecticut.
The human rights issue that the Windham AIDS Program addresses is the spread and impact of HIV on individuals within a community. The transmission and effect of AIDS on individuals is inextricably linked with human rights because the disease is still stigmatized in our society today. The link between AIDS and human rights is explicitly evident in the disproportionate incidence rates between the United States and developing nations. AIDS is an issue extremely important to me because one of my family members is HIV positive and I have personally seen the impact it has on an individual.

What I Do at the Clinic:

At my internship, I take on many different roles and responsibilities. I reorganized the Windham AIDS Program’s files for each case manager before the state auditor visited in September and helped create a uniform filing system for every case manager’s files. Furthermore, depending on the day, the various case managers at the clinic ask me to complete different tasks, and it is my job to figure out how to get everything done in the most time efficient and effective manner. Through those experiences, I learned how to effectively work with the different personalities of every case manager. I also interact with clients on a daily basis. Clients often have various requests and need help making phone calls to a landlord, employer, or insurance company, or they need assistance filling out a form. I have learned how to actively listen to someone and figure out the best way to solve his or her problem. Clients often come into the clinic distressed, and I have learned, through watching my supervisors, how to calm a person down and help them problem-solve in a levelheaded manner. My role within my internship organization is versatile. I wear many different hats throughout my shifts at the clinic. I am a problem solver, an active participant in discussions and brainstorming sessions, an organizer, a listener, and, most importantly, I am a student taking in every experience as a learning opportunity.

There are many skills I need to utilize when I am at the clinic. Multitasking and assisting numerous people at once are something I do nearly every shift. When monthly food assistance vouchers are distributed to clients, it is vital for me to be calm in a chaotic setting and assist many people in a timely and efficient way. Another skill I have found necessary for this internship is the ability to reflect on my experiences and also be able to switch gears after I have left the clinic. Sometimes, after hearing a heartbreaking story during a support group or interacting with a hysterical client, I can become affected for the rest of the day. I have learned to set aside time to reflect on my internship every day and to honor the time I need to decompress. I will definitely use the ability to reflect on my experiences and not take my work home with me in my future human rights work. This directly relates to the “Skills” reading given earlier the semester. It is absolutely crucial to reflect on and verbalize any complex or difficult feelings regarding my human rights work in order to avoid burn-out and be an effective practical idealist.

This internship has not changed my expectation about human rights work. I have volunteered in many different situations throughout my life and have experienced what its like to volunteer in a setting far different from what I am used to. However, working at the Windham AIDS Program has taught me that it is easy to get weighed down and over-emotionally invested in my clients. I need to learn how to place an appropriate emotional distance between my future clients and myself. However, I am excited to dedicate my life to helping people, and this internship has done nothing but confirm that desire.

Mariliz DeJesus, my close supervisor, Medical Case Manager (MCM)
Supervisor

Client Drop-In Center/Lounge at Windham Aids Clinic
Lounge

Drop in center

Clinic