Stephanie Garcia is a 15-year-old sophomore at LaGrange High School located in rural Southwest Georgia. Stephanie's commitment to serve started in fall 1997 after receiving second place for an essay about her uncle, and role model, who died of complications from AIDS. After the essay contest, she then realized that she wanted to do more than just write an essay about her uncle and AIDS, she wanted to increase her community's awareness of the disease.
Although she was warned by some that her small, rural, southern town of LaGrange, GA might not accept what she wanted to do, Stephanie decided to launch a school-wide AIDS Awareness campaign. This campaign gradually grew to include the entire community. Stephanie especially wanted to target her peers; the fastest growing population among HIV infected individuals. She recruited a committee of students to help her carry out her plan.
Stephanie received the permission of her school principal to set up an information booth in the cafeteria, hold a school assembly complete with guest speakers, pass out red ribbons representing AIDS awareness and post posters for an AIDS Awareness Week, held May 11-15, 1998. She also recruited adults from the local health department, teen clinic, school board, teachers and Communities in Schools and the Names Project Foundation to help her carry out her mission. She was able to get the Names Project Foundation to allow a portion of the AIDS Quilt to be on display at the school during AIDS Awareness Week. Stephanie was also able to secure radio announcements, interviews and newspaper coverage. She offered guest speakers from the local health department and teen clinic to visit each classroom in the school to answer questions and provide information and resources that students may not have been aware of. This also gave teachers the opportunity to have access to helpful information.
Troup County, where Stephanie resides, has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the state of Georgia. The number of HIV infected persons is increasing fastest among youth under age 24. By educating her peers about the dangers of having sex too soon and explaining how AIDS affects not only those who are infected, but those who love and care for that individual, Stephanie is making a difference in those statistics.