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Englewood Non-Profit Tackles Growing HIV Numbers With Free Testing

The Bergen Family Center is offering free, confidential HIV testing Aug. 13 at Van Saun Park
The Bergen Family Center is offering free, confidential HIV testing Aug. 13 at Van Saun Park Photo Credit: Paula Tenebruso

PARAMUS, N.J.– A simple finger prick, and in 20 minutes participants Saturday at a confidential testing event in Paramus will know if they have HIV.

HIV/AIDS is on the rise in Bergen County while in neighboring Passaic County, it's declined from 2011-15, said Paula Tenebruso, HIV/AIDS supervisor and eP-TAS coordinator at Bergen Family Center of Hackensack/Englewood .

She credits Passaic County's HIV decline with outreach and testing programs, which traditionally have been far more numerous and better supported in Paterson and across Passaic County.

"Sometimes people get funny about holding HIV testing events. We've had some problems, but it's getting better," the Emerson resident said.

Tenebruso has worked at Bergen Family Center for 16 years and a recent Special Projects of National Significance grant provided the center with this opportunity for additional outreach.

"It's great because we really need to decrease the stigma about testing," she said. "It's so needed."

This is the first such event at Van Saun Park, and Tenebruso said people had some concern because it's a family park. But HIV/AIDS is a family problem she said, and there's nothing to be embarrassed about.

Mobile testing vans run by Buddies of NJ and Hyacinth AIDS Foundation will be set up in Picnic Area E at Van Saun County Park from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Participants can look for people wearing yellow eP-TAS shirts.

"We did a Hackensack Street fair and had people lined up waiting," Tenebruso said, adding they also had a successful Englewood street fair event. "So people seem to embrace it and want to take advantage of it."

Anyone 13 years of age or older can get the test, which is administered by state-certified testers.

The test is free and participants get a $10 gift card, as well as free food, raffles and live entertainment.

Bergen Family Center, along with several other agencies, will have outreach workers on hand. Early intervention specialists also will be on-site. If anyone tests positive, they can be linked to care and provided with immediate support, Tenebruso said.

"eP-Tas is a collaboration of three Bergen County agencies and several more from Passaic County so we anticipate our outreach will be even more effective in getting people tested and linking anyone who tests positive to medical care and needed support services," she said.

The program consists of outreach workers engaging with the local population at six community events, continuing through fall 2017.

"People don’t get tested because they don’t see themselves at risk. You can be HIV-positve and have no symptoms for years," Tenebruso said. "What people don't realize is the only way to get tested is to request a test. It's not part of a routine blood screening."

Last year, the agency identified 32 cases, and the majority were ages 17-28 with 28 males and four females.

The next testing event is Friday, Aug. 19 at Passaic County Fair, Garret Mountain, Woodland Park. Hyacinth AIDS Foundation will provide a testing van from 6-11 p.m.

For more information, or to test at another date, call or text Tenebruso at 201-563-3819 or e-mail ptenebruso@bergenfamilycenter.org.

Van Saun County Park is at 216 Forest Ave., Paramus.

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