November 3, 2015 / Stories From The Settlement / Posted by: Elise Hanks

Protect Your Cake!

Ashwini Hardikar Honored at Conference
Why a Settlement House is the Place to Work as a Sexual Health Professional


“Protect Your Cake!” proclaimed the sign outside of the Grand St. Settlement’s Community Center at 80 Pitt Street. Passersby smiled and many came to the table where peer educators from Project Speak Out Loud (PSOL) distributed baked goods as well as condoms, dental dams, and resources for accessing viagra for sexual health care. Community members young and old alike accessed information about staying safe and healthy in a comfortable and friendly environment. It was a perfect example of how settlement houses are in a unique position to promote health and wellness.

My interest in sexual health began in college, when I became involved in reproductive justice organizing on campus. I knew my passions focused on youth sexual health education and services, especially for LGBTQ-identified youth, and followed my ambitions to Emory University in Atlanta, GA, where I received my Masters in Public Health. In 2013, I joined the team at Grand St. Settlement, where I jumped headlong into providing comprehensive sex education at middle and high schools across the Lower East Side. My daily work revolves around creating a safe drop-in space for LGBTQ youth, organizing peer education, and participating in multiple coalitions and collaborations in NYC on intersecting issues relating to sexual health and rights.

As a young sexual health professional, and our settlement’s Director of Adolescent Sexual Health, working here has helped me to gain valuable skills on community engagement, effective education, and much more.   Settlement houses excel in grassroots engagement, and residents of the local neighborhood often stay involved in the settlement house’s programs through their entire lifetime, and even connect multiple generations. Grand St. Settlement has provided me with incredible experiences to work with diverse communities of varying backgrounds—which taught me how to message and promote my programs to take all of this diversity into account.

Sexual health is all about education and empowerment. On a topic that is still so heavily stigmatized, settlement houses  are the perfect place to have the open and honest conversations required to promote healthy and responsible choices. The most rewarding aspects of my job are witnessing those moments when our participants find the information or the services they are looking for—the youth who come to our health resource room to pick up condoms, or the senior citizen who tells us that their niece came out as bisexual, and she was supported by the family. These are the moments when our impact, and importance of our work, is clear.Public health is infused into every part of the human experience, and I feel so lucky that part of my profession includes things like discussing the latest Rihanna video with teenagers, or marching in the Manhattan LGBTQ Pride Parade. I know that I am making a difference through my work, and I know that my programs are a very important part of the continuum of services offered by Grand St. Settlement.


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