“I think that there are so many aspects to being a healthy person in the LGBT, community and it starts with mental health and it moves all the way through physical health.”
Laura Kane-Witkowski believes in living healthy. Sure, as the health services coordinator for Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center, it’s her job to say that. But Kane-Witkowski doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk – or more accurately, runs. The 26-year-old vegetarian is in training to run her first marathon, a fundraiser for cancer research.
“What better way to really practice what I preach, to show that I’m taking optimal care of myself, because obviously I don’t think I can be a really good role model for the community if I sit here and eat potato chips all day,” she said.
In fact, if anyone’s snacking in Kane-Witkowski’s office it’s probably Emma, the rescued greyhound with a love for doggie cookies who frequently accompanies her to work. When she’s not feeding Emma, or fidgeting with her new iPod, Kane-Witkowski has lots to do; she’s responsible for all health programming at the center save the HIV/AIDS work.
“Health is so all encompassing, there are so many areas,” said Kane-Witkowski. “It’s not just talking about making sure that gay people are healthy. In a way, that is the bottom line, but there’s also so much more that goes into that because it’s not just about being gay and being healthy. It’s about seeing the connections between LGBT people in the community and why some health issues may affect them more, helping bring that to awareness, even doing basically a major shift in thinking for the LGBT community about health and about how health impacts the life of our community.”
One underserved segment of the LGBT population that Kane-Witkowski has been looking into is senior citizens.
“Our senior programming is basically brand new,” she said. “There’s not a whole lot of it going on in the metro Detroit area at all for LGBT seniors and so we’re really starting to branch out and take that on.”
Kane-Witkowski oversees two senior groups that meet each week at the center and searches for ways to keep seniors an active part of the community.
“A lot of seniors are really separated from the community,” she said. “They don’t necessarily go to the clubs, go to the bars. And some of them who’ve maybe either had a longtime partner that passed away or who have been with the same person for years and years and years, they are kind of off doing their own thing. They might not read Between The Lines; they might not get Center Lines newsletter from Affirmations. So reaching those seniors has become another goal. We’re trying to do a little bit of outreach to nursing home and senior centers and things like that. We have a pet therapy group that meets here at the center that goes to different nursing homes. And one of the primary reasons we do that, on top of the fact that we think that it’s a really great therapeutic and volunteer opportunity for people at the center, but it also allows us to go into nursing homes with our rainbow flags and with our buttons, so people in the nursing homes who might also feel isolated and who maybe have even gone back into the closet now that they’re in a nursing home or assisted living center, can see a gay presence.”
Smoking cessation is another area of concern for Kane-Witkowski, who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Detroit – Mercy.
“When you think LGBT health risks, you think HIV/AIDS and some of the obvious things that people associate with the community; but not smoking, when in fact it’s something that’s a serious issue for our community and we see smoking rates so much higher than just the community at large,” she said. “I think that there are so many aspects to being a healthy person in the LGBT community and it starts with mental health and it moves all the way through physical health and so we kind of have here at Affirmations a sort of holistic view, you have to take care of all aspects.”
Kane-Witkowski also works on a health care referral database and, indeed, tackles new projects every day.
“Sometimes it’s exhausting because there’s so much stuff to do and there’s so many areas to cover,” she said. “If I had 200 hours in a day I could do so much more. But I don’t, so sometimes it’s hard to accept that fact.”