With spring break in high gear on Fort Myers Beach, volunteers with the Island ?Coast AIDS?Network (iCAN) are sure to reach out and raise awareness of staying safe and practicing safe sex, while handing out free condoms and information on HIV and sexually transmitted diseases throughout the wild rush in March.
"We just started spreading awareness on Fort Myers Beach last year, and of the two volunteers that were out here last year, they gave out 1,500 to 2,000 condom packages, which each had four to six condoms in them. So, it's good to know they've been well received," said Dan Mitten, director of education and prevention for the iCAN foundation.
Now in its second year of hitting the island during spring break, iCAN staff and volunteers of the education department have been circulating throughout the north end of Fort Myers Beach spring break crowds every weekend in March so far, from Friday to Monday each week.
Julian Ramirez, Samuel Denholtz and Daniel Rust, volunteers with the Island Coast AIDS?Network (iCAN) have been combing the north end of Fort Myers Beach through the spring break season of March, spreading the word of practicing safe sex, and passing out condom packets to anyone who would like them. The volunteers will be out and about Fridays to Mondays through March, from about 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the sand, and 8 p.m. to midnight in the bars and clubs. Just look for the bright red T-shirts that say “LOVE condoms.” Also, if interested in volunteering or showing support, call 337-2391 or find the foundation on Facebook.
You can catch the volunteers on Fort Myers Beach primarily during two separate times of the day between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. along the sands while spring-breakers are out tanning and catching some rays, and from about 8 p.m. to midnight along the bars and clubs, for those hitting the club scene in the evening.
"If we can keep just one person from picking up HIV or an STD while they're here, we've done our job. Hopefully, we'll prevent far more than that, of course," Dan said. "We dont want anyone leaving Florida with anything they didn't come with and vice versa!"
For those interested in volunteering, Dan said they'd love to have you aboard.
"Any volunteers interested in helping, we'd be happy to have you join us along the beach. The guys that volunteered last year and so far this year have said they've been having a really, really good time, and that they've never met so many great people," he said. "Plus, we'll make sure all volunteers get their 'LOVE condoms' T-shirt."
That's right. All volunteers will receive a bright red T-shirt that says "LOVE condoms" on the front and promotes a toll-free number and website for HIV testing on the back, donated by the AIDS?Healthcare Foundation, a very large organization headquartered out of Los Angeles.
If interested in volunteering, call 337-2391, ext. 220, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
"The Island ?Coast AIDS?Network mission is to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, but we are now expanding that role to include education and prevention of all STDs as well as offer free HIV and STD?testing through rapid-testing in our CLIA?lab, certified by the state of Florida," Dan said. "Last year, we tested 2,000 people for HIV. We're not a clinic, but have a CLIA?lab. And we take care of 450 to 500 active clients and their affected families, and also have a food pantry for them. We do all the stuff that needs to be done for our patients, all working together to do what we can."
Through its free rapid-testing facility, HIV test results come back to the patient within just a matter of minutes.
The agency also offers classes on HIV/AIDS and STDs every other Tuesday at its main office on McGregor Boulevard, Fort Myers. Classes are open to the general public, and the group will also perform free and confidential HIV testing Mondays through Fridays.
The local iCAN agency has been serving the Southwest Florida community since 1987, providing vital services to HIV-infected individuals and their families. It is partially funded by the Lee County Department of Human Services, and is a United Way partner agency.
Those interested in classes or testing can contact iCAN, 337-2391, ext. 220, or email email@example.com.