Community Members Who Go Above & Beyond
The native of Mexico offers aid and counseling to the Latin community
When Ismael Medina was a 17-year-old high school student, his father teasingly asked him, “Are you going to college or the mushroom fields?”
Farm work is a respectable job, says Medina, 24, but unlike his father, he is not one for waking up at 4 a.m.
So the Newark resident began paving a path to be the first in his family to pursue higher education. A native of Guanajuato, Mexico, he learned to speak English at age 7, took English honors classes at Christiana High School, then figured out how to pay for college.
Today, the University of Delaware graduate—who was among UD’s National Society of Collegiate Scholars and was twice named a UD Office of the Provost Student of Distinction —works as an HIV/AIDS early intervention specialist at the Latin American Community Center in Wilmington.
In the last five years, on average, about 114 new cases of HIV or AIDS have been diagnosed annually in Delaware, according to a report by the Delaware Division of Public Health. The LACC is currently the only bilingual non-profit in New Castle County to offer confidential free HIV testing and counseling, says Medina. He has tested and counseled more than 500 people, including those as young as 15, since he started working there a year-and-a-half ago. He also makes care and treatment referrals, and conducts workshops and events to educate the community about HIV/AIDS facts and myths.
Medina started volunteering during high school, preparing meals for seniors at the Little Sisters of the Poor. In college, he volunteered at the Newark Senior Center to keep seniors physically and mentally active through exercise and various mind activities.
“I have seen that the elderly and people living with HIV may feel a sense of isolation and fear of death,” he says. “But by taking responsibility, getting treatment and the right care, your age or living with HIV should not stop you from doing what you like to do. A 75-year-old man sat next to me on graduation day – that’s proof.”
For the past four years, Medina has spread a similar message to high school seniors. As a volunteer for ASPIRA of Delaware he talks at local schools. He tells students not to give in to fears and doubts. Instead they should speak up about their concerns. “Don’t give up,” he says “Try your best even when things are hard.”
ASPIRA is a non-profit that helps Latino students move beyond a high school education to college. In Spanish, aspira means to aspire. Just as ASPIRA helped him and his parents with the college application process and with information about college financial aid, Medina assists students with the same process.
Anika Turner, Social Service director at the Newark Senior Center, says it’s clear Medina cares about helping people. “I have no doubt that he will continue to bless the community he works with. I think as a social worker there is no bigger praise than to be thought of as respectful, loving, and thorough.”
Medina hopes to pursue a master’s degree in clinical social work and eventually open his own non-profit.
On Wednesday, June 27, he will hold a free and confidential HIV testing and community health fair from 2-5 p.m. at the LACC, 301 N. Harrison St., in Wilmington.
For more information on HIV/AIDS contact: Ismael Medina, HIV/AIDS Early Intervention Specialist, at 655-7338 ext. 7740, or Medina@thelatincenter.org.