Friday, February 27, 2009

5 Questions for Tom Bell, Outreach Worker

5 Questions is our ongoing feature where we introduce you to the people who make Brandywine Counseling run, spotlighting a different staff member every two weeks.

Name: Tom Bell
Job: Outreach Worker, HIV Prevention and Needle Exchange
Time with BCI: 7 years

1. What’s your job at BCI and what do you enjoy about it?
I’m a member of the team doing outreach and needle exchange. The mission is to help reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, targeting injecting drug users, and then also offer harm reduction education and information. We’re out there in the community 4 days a week, which is Tuesday-Friday. We also do HIV rapid testing on that van. It’s totally confidential. And one doesn’t have to be in the needle exchange program to receive testing, one can just come on, get an HIV test. If they need referrals, then we’ll make those as well, give them help wherever we can. Also pass out condoms, to help slow down the spread of STDs. Right now we’re trying out a new pilot program. It's called the LINK program, and we offer some incentive, as far as introducing drug-injecting people to the program.

And I kind of like it, because it’s out there helping the community and trying to change their thinking. We understand most people will do what they’re gonna do, but not being knowledgeable of what they’re doing. [So] we try some education in that area, because we know that we can’t stop folks from doing what they do. I like doing it, because I myself was drug dependent at one time. I went through an organization, and aftercare, and a 12 Step program to get my life back, and change my mindset, and become a productive member of society. So we try to instill hope in them that they don’t always have to live like this.

2. The Delaware Division of Public Health announced recently there are now fewer new HIV infections in the state and more HIV tests being done, thanks in part to the needle exchange. What’s your reaction to this news? Do you think progress is being made?
Yes I do. My take on that is, the word is spreading, and it’s a plus.

3. What would people be surprised to know about your job?
It’s not just drug and alcohol related; we help out wherever we can. We help with clothing, food, shelter, referrals, whatever way we can help. I can remember the times when I was drug dependent, and I was just wishing and hoping someone could just help, just not knowing where to go or how to ask for help. And now with this outreach program, we’re out there meeting folks just where they’re at, so some of the things they might not want to ask, or don’t have the courage at that time, or maybe they think it’s gonna take too much time, we’re there to step in and kind of reevaluate their thinking.

4. What’s the fun part of your job?
(Laughs) You say the fun part… Being in this field, the fun part is in the beginning. Maybe meeting someone for the first time, and they don’t really like you, because sometimes you have to be stern and practice a little tough love at some point. But the gratitude is when you see them later on down the line, and they have changed their mindset, and [are] starting to do different things, starting to become a productive member of society, not so much drug dependent, and starting to get their life back together. That’s the joy, you know, that’s the reward, in all. And I love that.

And then, I also have those same individuals come up to me later on, maybe a month or a year later, and say, “Why, thank you. Thank you for being there, thank you for puttin’ up with all that you put up with.” And I in turn say, “You’re welcome, and thank you for puttin’ up with all that you put up with.” (Laughs) So, that’s the fun part.

5. Since you joined the Outreach team, you’ve been working side by side with your wife. What’s that like?
(Laughs) Well, actually, it’s good and it’s bad, you know, to be honest. Because I, too, have to have an outlet. And, like I stated, I was drug dependent, and I attend a 12 Step program, and sometimes I have to talk about some of the things that go on with me working with my wife… And I’m grateful to be able to work with her, because I didn’t have the opportunity [before]. We were in the same field, but different areas, different times, so I didn’t get a chance to spend as much time like I do now.

She’s been in the outreach program [longer], and she knows more than I know in the outreach area, and so I’m humbly taking my stand. And sometimes it gets frustrating when she has to be stern, and then sometimes I don’t like it… But I understand that it’s for the best for the program and the organization, and I keep an open mind. And it’s actually good. We have our bad times, but it’s more good times than bad. I think that it could work. It’s life!

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