Staff Spotlight: CRCS Counselor Richie Rotonta
South Philly native Richie Rotonta first joined the staff at Mazzoni Center three years ago. He started off as an outreach worker, performing community-level intervention work by distributing role-model stories and safer sex kits to people in night clubs and social settings. In this role he was also able to provide individuals with a direct link to HIV testing and STD screenings. It was high-energy work, but also highly rewarding, and Richie felt right away that he had found his niche.
“I’m a people person,” Richie says, “So what really drew me into prevention was the fact that I can meet with clients one on one, and on a daily basis.”
In addition to his outgoing personality and infectious smile, colleagues quickly took note of Richie’s “amazing” work ethic and dedication to the job. He was recently promoted to the position of CRCS counselor – which stands for Comprehensive Risk Counseling and Services. In this role, he is engaged in one-on-one intervention sessions, where he will meet with an HIV positive client or a high-risk HIV-negative client to talk about what’s going on in their lives, identify what behaviors might be placing them at risk, and together develop strategies to reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
“The most rewarding aspect of my work,” he says, “is seeing the progress my clients are making, and knowing how we worked together to improve their well being.”
In FY2011 Mazzoni Center’s Prevention Services Department provided over 400 CRCS sessions to 115 individuals. In addition to recruiting online through sites like Craigslist, through other agency programs such as REACH and 3MV, and through traditional outreach, our CRCS counselors have begun piloting new and different ways to reach individuals who may be at a higher risk of HIV infection. By reaching out to other organizations like Covenant House the department hopes to create an ongoing external referral service to identify potential CRCS clients. It’s all about risk reduction, starting on the individual level, and working towards the ultimate goal of impacting transmission rates for the larger community.
When it comes to his day-to-day client sessions, Richie understands the importance of providing a sympathetic ear, and acting as a knowledgeable resource. Many of his clients are dealing with multiple challenges and stress factors in their lives, things that can impact their behavior and their HIV risk. “The most important quality for someone working in this field is being non-judgmental,” Richie says. “Clients come to us and pour their hearts out - the last thing we need to be doing is criticizing them and making them feel uncomfortable.”
Outside of work Richie has been an avid gymnast for much of his life, and continues to use his athletic and acrobatic skills as a competitive cheerleader. It keeps him balanced in every sense of the word. Currently he competes with the STATE All-Stars on their Level 5 International Open team, traveling with them each year to Florida for the USASF (United States All Star Federation) Cheerleading Worlds event, where they compete against teams from around the world.
“It's a lot of hard work and dedication, but it is also a lot of fun,” he says. “We're more than just a team, we're a family.”
Regardless of whether he’s working or working out, Richie’s team spirit and commitment level are clear. The hardest part of being a counselor for him, he says, is when it comes time to discharge a client. “It’s kind of a bittersweet moment, because it means they successfully completed the intervention, but it also means I generally won't be seeing them anymore.”