ELIZABETH, NJ — Black people comprised just 21 percent of Union County’s residents in 2017 but 53 percent of its residents diagnosed with HIV or AIDS in that year, a trend similar to that seen across the state and nation, the data show.

Recognizing “National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day,” the Union County Freeholder Board on Thursday presented awards to three Union County companies dedicated to helping those with HIV/AIDS. The freeholders honored Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, Proceed Inc. and Iris House.

“National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is an important opportunity to increase awareness about HIV among people of color, and to allow everyone in our community to play a role in stopping HIV stigma,” said Freeholder Rebecca Williams during the presentation.

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Iris House Program Manager Charla Cousar accepted her company’s award.

“We are dedicated to improving the lives of those that are affected by HIV and AIDS,” said Cousar, whose company provides services women, families and underserved populations impacted by HIV and AIDS. “Thank you for recognizing us.”

The company is named after Iris De La Cruz, an early HIV activist, the website states. Iris House is the first HIV/AIDS agency to provide family-focused services to women of color, Williams said.

Several representatives from the Hyacinth AIDS Foundation accepted their company’s award.

“We want to keep up the good fight, and keep serving those who are most underserved,” said Hyacinth health educator Wesley McWhite.

The Hyacinth AIDS Foundation has six regional offices throughout New Jersey, including one in Plainfield serving Union County. The Plainfield office offers prevention services, care assistance, support groups, and client advocacy, according to the company’s website.

Freeholder Andrea Staten presented an award to a representative from Proceed Inc. Based in Elizabeth and Plainfield, Proceed Inc. provides HIV/AIDS testing, education and counseling to communities in Union and Essex Counties.

In addition to HIV/AIDS services, the company operates a preschool and family center, and provides counseling and financial assistance, according to its website.

Both Plainfield and Elizabeth are among 10 New Jersey municipalities with the highest population of people with HIV/AIDS, Williams said.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” she said. “And I think it’s very important that we honor these folks, who are doing the day to day work to raise awareness and to, ideally, eradicate this.”

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is observed on Feb. 7. Additional information and resources can be found on NBHAAD’s official website.

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