The Legacy Project
Building Support through a Mentoring Network: CAAT’s Legacy Project Connects PHAs to Build Capacity and Community
Many AIDS service organizations (ASOs) in Canada are committed to the greater and more meaningful involvement of people living with HIV (GIPA and MIPA) and the empowerment of people living with HIV. One manifestation of this commitment is the proliferation of “capacity building” and “leadership” programs for people living with HIV.
While such programs play a critical role in building the self-esteem of people with HIV/AIDS (PHAs) and empowering them as community leaders, many PHAs seem to have hit a “glass ceiling” in capacity-building initiatives. Many have completed all of the leadership programs available to them yet express a desire to continue to learn and grow through the guidance of those who are willing to share their experience and expertise. Such need for ongoing mentorship has also been identified through various research studies and community-planning think tanks.
In response to these emerging trends in capacity building, the Committee for Accessible AIDS Treatment (CAAT)—a Toronto-based coalition of HIV-affected individuals and organizations—took leadership to engage multiple community agency partners to create the Legacy project. The Legacy Project is CAAT’s initiative to build on existing capacity-building programs and provide PHAs with an ever-expanding network of mentors to facilitate a continuous, ongoing exchange of knowledge and resources.
The Legacy Project engages PHAs and their allies as “mentors.” Legacy builds structured mentorship relationships between mentors and PHA mentees to facilitate the establishing and working toward life goals, including more effective involvement in volunteerism, employment and/or pursuit of academic studies. The program begins with an orientation open to mentee candidates (PHAs who have completed “capacity building” trainings available in Toronto) and mentor candidates (PHAs and their allies who have transferable skills and experience). At the initial orientation, mentors and mentees are matched up to begin identifying goals and working out terms of how they will work together to achieve them.
Mentees who have achieved their initial goal may return to the Legacy Project to be partnered with a different mentor to work on another goal. In some cases, a mentee may be paired with multiple mentors to work on different goals simultaneously. Depending on their skills and experience, participants in the program who are PHAs may shift between roles as mentee and mentor or serve as mentor to a mentee while being mentored by someone else in the program.
For example, a mentee may participate in the program initially for guidance in exploring plans to pursue academic studies. While working with a mentor on that goal, she may be paired up with another mentor for guidance in working out how to balance her employment and community volunteerism priorities. This same mentee may have advanced artistic skills, meanwhile, which she may share by serving as mentor to another participant in the program looking to explore that discipline.
PHA graduates of the program are also invited to return to participate as co-facilitators, thereby increasing the sense of agency promoted by the program. Whenever possible, opportunities for internships are created with partner agencies to provide placement for program participants.
The Legacy Project has established a broad network of mentors and mentees to engage in ongoing community learning and sharing. In addition to the initial orientation session and meetings of mentor/mentee pairs, the Legacy Project operates additional meetings on an ongoing basis to bring together participants in a workshop-style setting; these meetings build and sustain the sense of community among participants and encourage the ongoing exchange and sharing of lived experience, knowledge and information. These “reflective practice sessions” are opportunities for Legacy participants to reflect and address emerging issues in their mentoring relationships, learn further skills, share ideas for improving the program, and form additional connections with other mentors/mentees in the program.
Legacy also organizes group mentoring activities to bring participants with common interests together to further share skills and lessons learned in these areas. Group mentoring sessions have ranged from baking bread to learning about social media to sharing concerns on parenting.
The Legacy Project is one example of an innovative approach to creating a sense of community, building capacity and strengthening connections among PHAs. For more detailed information on programs that strive to bring PHAs together to share resources and build connections, see Sharing Together for Life and Weekend Wellness Retreats.
For more information on The Legacy Project, please contact:
Derek Yee, Legacy Project Coordinator
Committee for Accessible AIDS Treatment
c/o Regent Park Community Health Centre
465 Dundas Street East
Toronto, ON, M5A 2B2
416-364-2261 ext 2318