Art therapy spreads HIV/AIDS awareness

Young people living with HIV can escape the stigma of the virus when they visit the Haven Youth Center.

Haven Youth Center is the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a place where HIV-positive youth feel accepted.

Located on the second floor of an old warehouse, the center offers a private atmosphere for youth who drop in and out of the center.

Inside, Haven is alive in color and spirit. The strokes of brushes pick up a kind of rhythm, followed by the smell of paint. People gather around white walls that become colored by the flowing motion of a hand. One of the new things happening at Haven is the painting of an art mural painting to spread awareness of HIV to the youth.

What comes out of the art therapy project is self-evaluation, which allows the youths infected with HIV to accept themselves.

Haven Youth Center in Kensington encourages HIV-affected youth to become productive citizens. The center recently sponsored the painting of this mural (Julia Wilkinson/TTN).

Art therapist Serena Saunders understands how art can be a great therapeutic tool in dealing with people that are alienated.

“Art is an internal expression and a good form of therapy that allows the youth to internally express their feelings, who they are,” Saunders said.

Haven steps up to provide support and services to the youth infected or affected by HIV. Many of the programs at the center provide HIV testing, support groups and an art therapy project. The project uses art to help youth express their feelings of isolation, depression and alienation in an otherwise stigmatized society.

Zoning out from the everyday struggles of life, the youth at Haven are very involved in painting the mural. The expressions on the kids’ faces when they come in are bright and optimistic.

“Having a visual color is nice to them, they can come in, turn the music on, grab a brush and physically get involved,” Saunders said.

Philadelphia is a city of murals, but what makes this one different from the rest is the awareness about HIV. Through meetings with the mural artist and teams, the mural represents people who are universally affected by the virus. Many of Haven’s youth come from hospitals in the Philadelphia region.

William Brawner, founder and executive director of Haven Youth Center, is an HIV/AIDS activist determined to spread the word about HIV.

“We make sure they take care of themselves as far as the disease is concern, but [our] biggest concern is to make sure they are productive citizens,” Brawner said.

As a person living with the virus, Brawner is familiar with the challenges young people go through. He maintains a strong, optimistic and healthy view for the kids at Haven.

The human interaction among the youth is a great sense of moral support and understanding, which helps them deal with their statuses.

Haven has a computer lab and college achievement programs to assist students with their academics. All the students’ achievements are acknowledged and put up on a wall.

The youth at Haven get a great sense of empowerment, as they gain security and feel optimistic about their futures. They learn how to live better lives physically and mentally and how to take care of their health.

“We just don’t focus on the disease,” Brawner said. “We track our kids, make sure they are doing better in schools, doing better with their doctors, doing better with their families, doing better with depression or whatever else they have going on.”

Sandra Rollins can be reached at


  1. I think this is a great thing. and love to be a part of your team. i dont have hiv, but i am i lic. cirt. home health aid. andi love to help people, and i love making a diffrence is people’s lives. i am a born again christian, and helping people to be healthy and happy is a very big passion for me!please feel free to contact me if you have room for me on your team! phone # 609-704-5460

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