Behind the Scene: My Experience at the Commission

Since the beginning of August, I have been interning at the Latino Commission on AIDS. When I first started working at this organization, I did not know what to expect. It was my first time working in an office setting and I was unsure of how the overall experience would be. I have learned a lot from this experience. For example, I learned how to input data using the statistical analysis software, SPSS. Using this program will help me in the long run because a lot of organizations and companies probably use the program for their data. I also learned that there is a oral test that is quick and simple to find out if a person is HIV positive or not.

In this experience I have worked with many people who have taught me a wide range of skills. The tasks I completed included inputting data, scanning newspaper articles and emailing the articles to myself, organizing files and stamping paperwork. While looking through newspaper articles I learned that a patient known as the Berlin Patient was functionally cured of HIV while receiving a stem cell transplant in 2008. I found this one of the most interesting things I have learned while working for the Commission, because it allows me to have hope that people who are living with AIDS will be cured some time in the future.

Overall my experience at the Commission has been amazing. The workers here are all very friendly and hard-working. They have made my time at the Commission fun and interesting. I am glad I took this internship and was able to do something productive with my summer.

Written by Tiara Vega

Behind the Scene: Summer at the Commission

This summer, I was given an opportunity to take part in something that can really change the world. I was able to spend my summer working with the Latino Commission on AIDS. During this time, I helped organize information for the Latino Religious Leadership Program from previous fiscal years and helped prepare for the next fiscal year to come. I got to work with some amazing people for a goal that seems obtainable: to increase awareness of HIV and AIDS to help reach the point where it will, one day, not be around.

I learned some new skills while working here, such as how to work with programs used for data entry, including how SPSS and Microsoft Excel. I learned how to set up SPSS depending on the data I have and how to use the various features to accurately portray what I want it to. I was surprised by how easy it was to learn these new programs. At first sight they seemed really complicated and difficult to understand, but after a short time of actually using them, I got more comfortable. I now feel confident that I can use these programs efficiently and effectively whenever the time may come. I learned skills to help me work in practically any field since all fields have some form of data within them. With this new knowledge I will be one step ahead of everyone else and have a better understanding as the training gets more advanced.

Everyone who worked at the Commission was amazing. They were all friendly and helped out whenever asked. They made my time working here incredible and all the more enjoyable. I had an incredible time helping out and a truly great experience. I am glad to have been given this opportunity to take part in something like this. It was a great experience.

Written by Ramon Torres

Intern from John Jay College

What Keeps Me Up At Night

As an advocate at Woodhull Medical Center for a nonprofit organization that strives to address social determinants of health, I find my work both riveting and frustrating. Each week, I call a number of my clients, most of whom do not speak English, and the others hardly answer the phone to begin with.
How does a public health professional become a catalyst for change and empower those they work with?
I feel like I fail week after week when I do get in touch with my clients and they tell me things like “Oh I did not have time to go an apply for health insurance” or “I do not see the value in going back to school and taking GED classes when I need to work.” How do you convince someone that these social needs are actually essential? It is nearly impossible to create a sense of agency for someone who finds a need like adult education undesirable or inaccessible…but that is why the field of public health captivates me. Each day I try to find unique ways to market to my clients value-value in their own health. It is one thing to exhaustively explain to someone that educational status is in fact a lead indicator for poor health, and it is not always clear to everyone the impact of their routine on their overall quality of life. When clients of mine fear even setting foot into a hospital, you know there needs to be a change.
New York City has an abundance of resources. If there is one city in the United States that can address some facet of health, this would be the place, and though I am going to make a rather broad generalization, I do not believe every organization makes the most of their potential to maximize resources. I should not have to explain to someone living in one borough that they are better off traveling into another borough to receive quality service, or that help with their need does not exist in their specific borough. This goes back to the notion of accessibility and acceptability.  Is it feasible to ask someone to travel for a class or to fill out an application? (I hope you agree with me that the previous question is rhetorical). If the resource landscape in New York City as a whole is so robust that every other major city in the US looks to us to inform their own public health agenda, then why shouldn’t that be the case in each borough? Would overall health increase by providing permanent solutions to address borough-specific social determinants? It is by no means a panacea, and I know I am not the first person to question the system, but it is just some food for thought. My mind continuously wonders about my role in the public health of our community, and so, why not think about your own?
Written by Pilar Mendez


Memories of becoming a behavioral scientist advocate during these past ten years

As I near my ten year anniversary at the Latino Commission on AIDS, I have been reflecting about my time here. It’s been a time of growth and a time of application. My PhD wasn’t just for an ivory tower but also for application on the ground in communities throughout the country. Nothing has thrilled me more than to see how psychology informs all facets of life, work and the 30 year struggle to reach an end of AIDS state of being. Memories? Those I have many of. Let me highlight three personal memories from my past ten years in the HIV/AIDS field.

After I completed my post-doctoral training, I was offered a job at the Commission as Behavioral Science Director. I wasn’t too sure what the position would entail as it was a completely new job title therein. All I knew was that I was to figure out how to do capacity building for community based organizations that were in the daily struggle to fight AIDS. Many of them were now implementing interventions that were mandated by funders that had been developed elsewhere for a different population. I was perplexed as to whether I was to sue behavioral science to help organization change or if I was to help organizations at large understand the underlying behavioral science in their new mandated interventions. Turns out it was a bit of both.

Within a month at being at the Commission I had to present at the Latino Behavioral Health Institute conference that was held in California. I immediately had to travel to a conference to present on data that I had not collected to a group of psychologists. That was everything my former student self would have cringed at. I was so used to academic presentations where people tore each other apart over minutia. I didn’t know anyone at the Conference other than my new colleagues. I went ahead and developed the PowerPoint and presented on the data. What I remember most about that experience was that the tile of my presentation was “Good intentions are not enough.” That title would underlie my experience in the field for years to come. It was the beginning of me truly being a scientist-advocate: meaning someone who would find the bridge between science and community as well as data and application.

Thereafter, I went on to design, plan and implement our first-ever large scale Training Institute based on formative assessment data we ourselves had collected. I had eloped and have never thrown a party. Event planning was not my thing, previous to that. Now, I became a scientist-advocate, as well as an event planner. We ran focus groups, collected surveys and conducted interviews. All that data I analyzed and turned into an Institute program design. The day of the opening plenary, I was to do the welcome remarks in Spanish. It was my first time ever speaking to a large crowd (outside of my family) in Spanish. I looked about and scrapped my notes and spoke from the heart. I hit a homerun! I was energized by seeing an event unfold that had just existed in my head. I was energized by the eager crowd before me that was there to learn. I was eager to see how learning occurred in such a customized environment. Thereafter, we went on to design and implement eight more such training institutes across the country. All customized to the specific region. It was and has been an exhilarating experience to see learning principles, I had been taught in graduate school, come alive.

Lastly, I have a very personal memory to highlight. I gave birth in 2008 to a healthy baby boy who would go on to be an integral part of our Latinos in the Deep South program. That, however, is a post for another day. The day after I gave birth, I worked on a manuscript called the CHANGE model of capacity Building assistance. I had my beautiful boy in one arm and I typed away with the other. I read a lot piece of my manuscript and when he cried I took that to mean I should revamp the section. I will never forget those crazy days after giving birth. He helped me write what would end up being the framework for our capacity building services; with an emphasis on customization. I had become a behavioral scientist advocate and event planner that specialized in understanding the specifics of the situation and person so that services could be customized. That is way too long for a job title, so I will just settle for describing myself as being an advocate whose tools include science and personalization. Is it too late to submit this as part of my college essay  Oh, the memories!

-written by Dr. Miriam Y. Vega

Inspired by the daily prompt of Moments to Remember

Our home, home on the Office Range

Our home, home on the range


As an entity that has been around for 20 years, we have had several home offices. We started off in a small cramped office in Union Square in New York City.  It was ok to be cramped because we were at that time a very local provider of services. We had been founded to address the growing HIV epidemic in the Latino Communities in New York City that had been forgotten by the masses.  It was ok to be cramped because we were often out on the street conducting outreach events to raise awareness and increase knowledge in so-called hard to reach communities. Except they weren’t all that hard to reach since our team was made up of individuals from very said communities.


As our services grew, as we saw a need to have a larger wide-reaching voice, we outgrew our office space. We then moved to a larger 5,000 square foot office in the Chelsea area of Manhattan. We were near public transportation making it easy ride for individuals to reach us.  We then grew even more in the early 2000s when we received our first national Centers for Disease Capacity Building grant. We then had a wider focus and reach. We were to build the capacity of other similar community based organizations across the country. We then acquired two floors and a whole slew of new committed team members. We have since even grown to have local offices in North Carolina.  We have been humbled and overjoyed at this growth and making these new offices a home for our team that day in and day out works hard out in the communities and out on the road.


Now as the work space culture changes with the myriad of technological advances we are looking to creating a new feel to the home offices where individuals can have broad range of movement and all teams are together in one space.  You know how breaking bread together can bring different people together to share a common goal? The same can be said about shared space. So, here we go again with a new change to the home office whereby teams are integrated and readily bouncing ideas off of each other. We are looking forward to this new dynamic and seeing how it enhances further our service provision.

As capacity building assistance providers that have a specialization on organizational infrastructure, we understand that an inviting and “learning organization” office culture depends on work space, flow and integration. How does your office layout imapct yoru work? Everyday we should remember that many, who spend more than 8 hours in the office space, find that to be their second home. A home on the metaphorically range.

Post written by Miriam Y. Vega @miriamyvega



Inspired by the daily prompt of home.