Voices Of Community Activists & Leaders (VOCAL-NY) is a statewide grassroots membership organization building power among low-income people affected by HIV/AIDS, the drug war, and mass incarceration, along with the organizations that serve them, to create healthy and just communities. They accomplish this through community organizing, leadership development, public education, direct services, participatory research, and direct action.
We spoke with Co-Executive Director Alyssa Aguilera about the work VOCAL-NY is doing in the community.
VOCAL-NY has been around for two decades! Can you tell me a little bit about what your work entails day-to-day?
At VOCAL-NY, we have a fabulous team that gets a lot done! We believe in a multi-pronged approach to change where we run campaigns to win laws and policies, but also to provide direct services to meet the immediate needs of our members. We have community organizers that travel across the city and state to recruit and develop members who are directly impacted by our core issues of HIV/AIDS, homelessness, drug use, and mass incarceration. We have a policy team that researches, writes, and advocates for the passage of laws and policies to transform our communities. Our services staff is running our syringe exchange program where they provide drug users with harm reduction services, health education, and connections to care. And we have our stellar development, communications, and operations staff that keeps the place running and the bills paid!
You were known as the NYC AIDS Housing Network until 2010. What prompted the name change, and how, if at all, has that changed your mission?
We changed our name to more fully reflect the work that we do. Although AIDS housing will always remain a critical part of our organizational mission, we’ve expanded our campaigns and grown our membership base to include other issues and priorities, so we changed our name to reflect that.
VOCAL-NY runs a leadership development program called POWER Academy. Who is that for and what does it involve?
POWER Academy is a multi-session, intensive leadership development program for VOCAL-NY members. It’s a popular education style training where we discuss political theory, build practical skills, and strategize about campaigns. It’s a great way to build the leadership of our members so that they can more meaningfully participate in the organization.
What are some things you’re working on right now?
We’re doing a lot of work around affordable housing and homelessness which is obviously a major concern for pretty much every New Yorker. We want to make sure that the conversation around “affordability” includes people who are very low-income, as well as people who need supportive services. We’re also focused on addressing the rising rates of overdose deaths in NYC—we want to get Naloxone in as many hands as possible, and also push the city to adopt Supervised Injection Facilities so that people who use drugs can be safe and healthy.
How do you think the outcome of the U.S. Presidential Election will affect folks in your community, people you’re working with every day?
We’re bracing ourselves! There’s a lot at stake, especially for our members who are living with HIV or Hepatitis C where access to health care is literally the difference between life and death. But we’re organizers, and we know that local politics matter, so we’ll continue doing our work and not backing down no matter what.
How do you see print in helping to further VOCAL-NY’S mission?
We need print to get our message out there and to let people know what we have to offer and how to get involved with us. As organizers and services providers, we have to be in streets, with real tangible tools to connect with people.
We have a very long four years ahead of us. How can people interested in your work support you and get involved?
For more information on VOCAL-NY and how to support their work, visit their website:
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