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Nonprofit's programs to educate teens, their parents on risk factors for AIDS

| Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013,

More than 25 percent of new HIV infections are contracted by people 13 to 24 years old, and blacks and gay males are the most affected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

A Manchester-based nonprofit, Educating Teens about HIV/AIDS Inc., will try to fight those statistics with a series of programs for teenagers and their parents to discuss social and cultural influences on health.

“We use HIV as the lens to look at some of the issues facing youth,” said Kezia Ellison, founder and executive director of the organization. “Oftentimes, HIV/AIDS is not necessarily the first thing on the mind, but it's the underlying risk factors that can lead to (the disease).”

The Live Life Without the Disease Series kicks off at noon Saturday at Thelma Lovette YMCA in the Hill District.

Ten other sessions between Jan. 19 and September will focus on how decision-making can affect overall well-being.

Program organizers are recruiting at least 30 Pittsburgh-area teens between 13 and 19 years old and their parents to participate in the sessions, which doctors, nutritionists, relationship experts and other professionals will lead.

Organizers will decide on the locations of the other 10 sessions based on where participants live, Ellison said.

The nonprofit, founded in 2001, partners with communities, schools and places of worship for HIV/AIDS prevention programs. It has a seven-member board of directors and a six-member youth board that give suggestions about programming, Ellison said.

The series encourages dialogue among teens and parents and teaches teens to recognize risky behavior, such as sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The Live Life Without the Disease Series was founded in 2008, but it has not been held annually because of a lack of funding, Ellison said.

In October, the Highmark Foundation, an affiliate of Downtown-based insurer Highmark Inc., provided a $75,000 grant for the series, said Denise Hughes, a company spokeswoman.

“Sometimes parents tend to shy away from having those difficult conversations, such as HIV and AIDS, and the series offers an opportunity to break down those barriers,” Hughes said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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