UGA HEROs impacts children affected by HIV
Nearly 50,000 people living in Georgia are affected by HIV/AIDS. Of those 50,000 people, more than 12,000 are children, making Georgia the state with the sixth highest number of pediatric AIDS cases.
UGA HEROs, a student-led organization, was founded in 2003 with a focus on improving the lives of children affected or infected by HIV/AIDS. The organization has been incredibly well received on campus with approximately 2,000 members having raised over 1,000,000 dollars since its inception.
During a trip to Kenya, UGA student, Garrett Gravesen witnessed a child lose his battle with AIDS. He was deeply touched by having seen first hand the child’s struggles and eventual death. Gravesen felt the need to combat this type of tragedy closer to his home. He contacted and teamed up with UGA AIDSEC President Ryan Gembala. The two students together created UGA HEROs in hopes of raising money for children in Georgia affected by HIV/AIDS.
Following graduation, Gravesen and Gembala went on to create Hearts Everywhere Reaching Out for Children, Inc. (H.E.R.O for Children), the only non-profit in the state of Georgia solely dedicated to improving the quality of life for affected children.
Today, UGA HEROs spends each year raising money for H.E.R.O for Children, which administers and directs the money in order to best serve the children affected in Georgia. Sophomore health promotions and UGA HEROs member, Sarah Margaret Mason said, “Over the years, HEROs has adopted the motto, if it’s not ‘wow,’ it’s not worth doing.” Undoubtedly, HEROs has done a job worth saying “WOW.” The children benefit not only through the funds raised, but also by the opportunities to have a mentor, a free summer camp and being able to spend time with the UGA HEROs members. HEROs mission is to improve the lives of these kids. Members are able to do that by raising money for the non-profit and spending time with the children. In addition, members seek to spread awareness about the growing problem of pediatric AIDS and defeating the stigma tied to this disease.
Life with HIV/AIDS can cause many challenges, often times leaving children feeling uneasy and ostracized from others. Along with the physical threat of HIV/AIDS, mental health issues can emerge causing a child to feel angry and hopeless, ultimately lacking self-esteem and confidence.
UGA HEROs aims to bring these feelings to an end by bringing together volunteers and trained facilitators to help develop life skills needed for the children to overcome the everyday challenges of HIV/AIDS. Working closely with the 500 children in the H.E.R.O for Children program, members provide a breakaway from the stress of HIV/AIDS.
UGA senior journalism major and long-time HEROs member, Kathryn Kostovetsky, said, “HEROs is an escape for the children. Whether HIV/Aids has affected them a little or a lot, HEROs provides some time away from the reality of the illness where kids can just be kids.”
Watch this YouTube video for more on what it is like to be affected by HIV/AIDS: