“I found some things that were shocking to me, and I’d like to share them with others,” said Laguna Beach High School freshman Nicholas Rieckhoff, explaining the motivation behind his HIV awareness brochure for teens, which he presented to the Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday.
As the student representative on the city’s HIV Advisory Committee, Nicholas was joined at City Hall by four other committee members.
“This is the first time a high school student has made such a contribution to HIV/AIDS and this committee,” said committee chair Sarah Kasman, also executive director of Shanti OC, which provides services to people affected by HIV and AIDS.
None of the previous student representatives were as proactive as Nicholas, Kasman said. “He’s a trailblazer,” she said, praising him for attempting to educate his peers.
For his part, Nicholas simply saw a need for better information and sought to fill it. He became aware of the HIV/Advisory Committee when they spoke to his health class at school. “They inspired me to look past the class,” he said. So he went to a committee meeting and also did some of his own research on the subject, discovering facts he felt would benefit his classmates.
Nicholas said he liked the pamphlet on HIV awareness that the committee had published for local seniors and decided to write his own brochure, geared towards teens, which will initially be distributed to LBHS students, though the committee hopes to eventually disseminate the brochures more broadly.
The brochure itself provides key facts and myths about HIV/AIDS in a straightforward, easy to read style, addressing how the virus is transmitted and how to avoid getting it, and emphasizing the importance of getting tested, especially since LBHS students are eligible for free testing at Laguna Beach Community Clinic.
Nicholas included compelling statistics in the brochure to highlight the importance of young people remaining vigilant and getting tested, such as that 37 percent of those who tested positive for HIV in 2011 had already progressed to AIDS at the time of testing, and that one in three new infections in the United States occur among people in the 15 to 24 age group. The pamphlet also notes that contrary to stereotypes, HIV is commonly spread between men and women, which is the fastest growing way the virus is spread, and that one third of all new cases are heterosexual females.
Committee member Dr. Korey Jorgensen, who runs the HIV treatment program at the Community Clinic, said the committee aims to reduce the social stigma associated with HIV, to educate the community about the transmission and prevention of the disease and to provide services and support to residents affected. Nicholas’s effort to better inform his peers helps further that mission.