South Side Community Hub opens for HIV/AIDS awareness

At the end of the green line in Woodlawn, a community center for LGBT organizations for people of color has joined the neighborhood.

The Center on Cottage Grove is for organizations doing HIV awareness on the South Side. Five groups have already registered to use the space at 6323 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

They share a goal of reducing HIV transmission among black and Latino populations on the South Side, where the greatest number of new HIV diagnoses have occurred, according to the city’s 2020 HIV Surveillance Report.

Aside from the name, there’s little indication of who even rents the space: the Center on Halsted. Center CEO Modesto ‘Tico’ Valle said it was intentional. The Center’s goal had been to open a South Side location for 10 years, but when the time came, they took a hands-off approach.

“It is important to us that where we need to be in the lead, we lead. Or we have to follow, we follow,” Valle said.

The strategy is for each group involved to reach a different LGBT population: ALMA Chicago with Latinos, Affinity with black women, TaskForce with youth and transgender populations, TPAN with seniors, and the Chicago Black Gay Men’s Caucus with men. black.

Betty Akins manages the Getting to Zero program at the Center on Cottage Grove.

Tyler Pasciak LaRivière/Sun-Times

To that end, how each uses the space will vary, said Betty Akins, who manages the hub. Between the organizations, there will be training on HIV outreach to vulnerable populations, HIV testing and mental health counseling, Akins said.

The Black Gay Men’s Caucus began holding community meetings in June. TaskForce’s Chris Balthazar said he and Akins discussed how to implement community activities such as mini-drag balls.

“It’s about making sure that the program they offer meets the needs of the people who live in that community and reaches them in a way that fits their culture,” said Balthazar, executive director of the West Side organization.

The hub occupies a corner storefront on the ground floor of the historic Strand Hotel. The hub is at the end with the French glass at the entrance of the brick neoclassical building.

The interior of the Center on Cottage Grove located at 6323 South Cottage Grove Avenue in the Woodlawn neighborhood.

Inside the Center on Cottage Grove in the Woodlawn neighborhood.

Tyler Pasciak LaRivière/Sun-Times

Inside, the geometric tiles show some wear, but otherwise the space looks brand new. A few tables on wheels take up the main space, and there’s a private office space in the back that was once used as a monkeypox vaccination clinic.

The Center on Cottage Grove is hosting an open house from 2-7 p.m. on Thursday, August 25.

Valle hopes other grassroots organizations will get involved.

“Our job is to help you continue to grow to build your infrastructure so you can continue to serve this vulnerable community that no one else is serving,” Valle said.

Michael Loria is a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for Americaa non-profit journalism program that aims to strengthen the newspaper’s coverage of communities on the South and West Sides.

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