Building Rapport with Clients
She makes condoms readily available and delivers HIV prevention messages with the warmth of a family elder. “Now you know what your mom used to tell you back in the day: everything that looks good isn’t good for you.”
Rapport with clients is the foundation for her success. Her advice about building that rapport? “Listen; just keep listening,” says Gigi. Many visit regularly. The frequent contact is especially important for clients whose risky behavior is on-going. “A lot of them come in to be re-tested every 3 – 6 months. They take condoms; they even ask for dental dams. And I know they’re using them properly because I have not had one come back positive.”
Among the clients who visit often are 15 individuals that has Gigi diagnosed with HIV. “A lot of people that I deal with don’t trust easily. They want to hold on to what’s familiar.
“I have to convince them that even though they’re moving on, I will be right here when they need me. I walk them up to the District HIV Service Clinic, introduce them to their case worker, and let them know that they’re in good hands. Over the years, they come back to visit and tell me how they’re doing. "
If an HIV-positive client misses their medical appointment, Gigi follows up. When they call back to report that they have returned to care, her response is enthusiastic. “I want people to do whatever it takes to be safe and healthy. I want them to live a normal, healthy life. I want them to have an undetectable viral load so they don’t put others at risk. I can’t do it for them – they have to choose it for themselves. But they seem to respond when I listen. And sometimes I tell them, ‘I love myself and I want you to love you.’ One client is in a relationship now. I’m just thankful that they trust me enough to let me help them help themselves.”
At one time, Gigi was afraid of contact with anyone with HIV. “I was one of those people who believed all the stereotypes about HIV until someone close to me was diagnosed. So I understand how people can be afraid and I don’t make light of it. But knowing the facts about how the virus is transmitted and learning how to stay safe is much more effective than judging and shunning folks. When I see that happening, I’ll pull that person aside and let them know the truth about HIV.