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Project to study Hispanic HIV issues in 7 Counties in Florida
 
 
  By FRANK FERNANDEZ
Staff Writer
 
PIERSON -- Ana Cruz remembers when she was a young girl growing up in Pierson that her parents would not allow her to have a boyfriend or to go out with her girlfriends at night before she turned 15.
 
Things are not as strict for today's girls, who are going beyond just having boyfriends at a younger age, she said.
 
"Now they are not only having that but taking an extra step," Cruz said. That "extra step" of sexual relations is one of the things Cruz wants to learn about when she conducts a survey in Pierson for the Farmworker Association of Florida. The survey is designed to learn how to best educate Hispanic youths and their parents on avoiding HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The surveys will be done in February and completed in March, said Holly Baker, a grants coordinator in the Farmworker Association of Florida's Apopka office. Later this year, the association will distribute brochures and free condoms. Also later this year, the Farmworker Association will conduct free HIV tests by taking cheek swabs. The brochures, free condoms and free tests will be available to anyone in the community, not just Hispanics, Baker said.
 
The project is funded through a more than $700,000 Florida Department of Health grant divided over three years, covering seven counties: Volusia, Orange, Lake, Putnam, Indian River, Collier and Miami-Dade. While only Hispanics will be surveyed in Pierson and Fellsmere in Indian River County, Haitians will also be part of the survey and project in the other counties, Baker said.
 
"We are dealing with a lot of cultural and generational gaps," Baker said, "but mostly cultural differences between parents who may be immigrants to this country and teenagers who may have been residing in this country, who may have been born in this country and have totally different influences than their parents might have had in their home country."
 
Baker said the Farmworker Association will be creating a Web site and a blog and a page on Myspace and other social networking sites to help inform these groups about HIV and safe sex.
 
"We don't want to just assume that everyone uses Myspace," Baker said. "There might be another networking site that I don't even know about that more of the young people in these communities are using."
 
The project will benefit Pierson's young people, said Marcos Crisanto, the coordinator at Farmworker Association's Pierson office.
 
"To me, the most important thing is to let people know the risk and how they can protect themselves because when one is young, you are sometimes irresponsible," Crisanto said.
 
Cruz said her Mexican heritage and Pierson upbringing will help her get Hispanics in the community to open up on sensitive subjects such as HIV and sexual habits.
 
"They are going to feel more comfortable, since I came from (Pierson)," Cruz said.
 
The 24-year-old Cruz was born in DeLand, grew up in Pierson, graduated from Taylor T. Dewitt Middle-High School in 2002 and moved to Orlando in 2004. In November, she returned to Pierson and got the job as an outreach worker for the Farmworker Association. She also works managing homeowners associations at Sentry Management in Longwood.
 
She said the survey and HIV prevention work will help her meet her eventual goal.
 
"I'm studying to be a pharmacist and I think this will be a good opportunity for me to learn," Cruz said. "And I grew up here and I like helping people." She remembers when she was growing up her parents didn't want to talk to her about sex, instead leaving it up to teachers. She said her generation will be more willing to talk to their children about the topic.
 
She said she has also seen a change her own parents in the way they treat her 16-year-old sister.
 
"My parents are more lenient on my younger sister now," she said.
 
 
 
 
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