“With me being a tester and being HIV+ at the same time, when I test and get a new diagnosis, it allows clients to see someone who’s HIV+ who looks really good. They realize that their life isn’t over when they see me.” — Damon Hamilton, Program Manager, BU Wellness.
For over 15 years, BU Wellness has been serving Marion County, providing HIV-related services and support. BU Wellness is the largest Black AIDS-service organization in Indiana, and they serve over 35% of Black people in Indiana who are living with HIV.
However, BU Wellness is so much more than the services it provides. BU Wellness strives to bring a personal touch to every interaction they have with the community. Whether it’s providing food for clients or administering HIV testing, the team at BU Wellness focuses on building community and letting their clients know they matter.
“We have clients, but we don’t treat people like they’re clients. We’re like a big family,” says Program Manager Damon Hamilton. “Even when people come here, they don’t have to talk just about their HIV stuff. They can talk about their day-to-day, what’s going on, and why they’re struggling.”
How Does BU Wellness Serve the Community?
The BU Wellness mission statement is to enhance the health and wellness of Black communities in Indiana. For many years, they did this through providing HIV testing, but they have recently expanded their focus to include non-medical HIV case management and nutrition services.
The team at BU Wellness works to normalize HIV testing in the community by pairing testing with other services that are less stigmatized. One example of this is their pop-up pantries. The team goes out into the community and offers free, fresh produce. When people come to get food, they also find out about free HIV and syphilis testing. This pairs something the community needs with a healthy wellness check. As Intake Coordinator Khara Ice says, “If it takes me having to give you some grapes, a zucchini, and an onion for you to come through this door, that’s just what we have to do.”
BU Wellness mostly serves people in the 46208, 46226, and 46205 zip codes, but they will bring their services to any area in need of HIV testing, food, or clothes. The organization strives to be available to anyone who is in need of their help, inside or outside of Marion County. Their focus is on the health and wellness of Black people living in Indiana.
What makes BU Wellness Unique?
“We are Black and unapologetic. We’re straightforward, we mean what we mean, we meet people where they’re at,” says Damon Hamilton.
BU Wellness is also extremely innovative. They are constantly looking for new ways to connect to the community and educate people about HIV prevention. You can find the BU Wellness team all over Indianapolis, offering fresh produce, testing, clothing, support groups and educational opportunities. The work they do cannot be contained inside four walls.
“We’re like a big family. When they come here, they come here like they’re our cousin, our kids, our uncles or aunties. We sit down and talk to them,” says Hamilton.
Above all, BU Wellness is welcoming, and they take pride in creating a warm and hospitable environment. Anyone who walks through their doors or engages with them in the community is welcomed just as they are. “People…talk a lot about our hospitality for our clients, guests, volunteers, or anyone who comes in. We offer everything available to make people comfortable. It’s just that extra step of service that’s very distinct in our organization,” says Interim Executive Director Jasmine Black.
How can I connect to BU Wellness?
If you are interested in accessing the services BU Wellness provides, you can reach out over the phone, on their website and social media, or in person. When you reach out, you’ll connect directly with a member of the BU Wellness team who can answer any questions and help you get what you need; whether that’s HIV testing, food assistance, or a listening ear.
If you’re interested in supporting the work, there are lots of ways to get involved. One easy way to show your support is by following BU Wellness on social media and sharing what they do with your network. If you’re looking for a more hands-on way to get involved, consider reaching out to BU Wellness about volunteering. There are ways to get involved both in the office and out in the community.
You can also help BU Wellness increase their impact with a financial gift. Donations go directly toward supporting the central services BU Wellness provides, and a gift of any size will make a difference.
Thank you to the BU Wellness Network team for talking with Side by Side!
Jasmine Black, Interim Executive Director
Damon Hamilton, Program Manager
Jordan Dafayette, Program Prevention Coordinator
Flomichelle Battles, Program Coordinator
Khara Ice, Executive Assistant, Program Coordinator for Nutrition Programs, Intake Coordinator
Sa’hara Miller, Transgender Program Coordinator,
Tanji Bailey, Psychosocial Support Specialist
Mi’Kayla Cross, Outreach Facilitator and Testing
Ninjia Miles, Director of Development