River Region Human Services Awarded Social Media Grant for National Pilot Project

River Region Human Services was awarded a social media grant to participate in a national pilot project to help prevent HIV/AIDS and substance abuse among minority populations in the Jacksonville, FL area.


Jacksonville, FL -- (SBWIRE) -- 02/18/2014 -- River Region Human Services has been awarded a federal grant for a pilot program that uses social media to reach targeted populations with messages to prevent substance abuse and HIV infection.

New Media, New Messages (NM2) is a grant awarded to 18 agencies in the U.S. by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The grant provides funding to conduct outreach to specific minority populations using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others. The NM2 program aims to decrease prejudice and discrimination by giving those at risk of contracting HIV the opportunity to share their stories online, allowing positive interaction with others in their community and encouraging healthy behaviors.

The grant, which launched October 1, 2013, targets those at highest risk for substance abuse and HIV infection, including African American heterosexuals over the age of 15, and African American men who have sex with men (MSM) over the age of 18. Both heterosexual and MSM populations within the African American community carry a significant burden of HIV/AIDS, as well as co-occurring risk factors that contribute to the disproportionate growth of substance abuse, mental health, and HIV/AIDS cases in Duval County.

River Region has developed two social media sites for the identified populations: Wats Da T Jax to target African American men who have sex with men (MSM) over the age of 18, and Wats Da Play Jax to target African American heterosexuals over the age of 15. Each of the two populations are using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, text messaging, email and other methods of outreach to share information regarding free testing, preventing STDs, and avoiding at-risk behaviors. The project team is working with Deppe Communications to develop and monitor the social media communications strategy.

Vince Evans, River Region’s Project Director for NM2, says the innovative pilot program has already reached thousands of people. “This is such an important message and social media is a critical way to reach the individuals identified by the program. The inherent anonymity of social media helps us reach populations that are either not consuming traditional media, or are reluctant to engage in activities where they would be identified. We have a team of social media specialists drawn from the target populations who are building a level of trust. Ultimately, our goal is to reduce the incidences of STD’s, substance abuse and HIV infections in our community.”

African Americans at Higher Risk for HIV in Duval County

African Americans represent 30.5% of the population in Duval County; nearly double that of the entire state of Florida (15%). Despite their minority status, African Americans account for 49% of total reported HIV cases; 40% of all adult male and 69% of all adult female cases. Newly reported adult HIV infection case rates are five times higher among African American men than white men and 15 times higher among African American women than white women. For 22 consecutive years (1988-2010), HIV/AIDS had been the leading cause of death for African Americans ages 25-44 in Florida. While HIV/AIDS dropped to the 4th leading cause of death for African American men and 2nd leading cause of death for African American women in Florida in 2011, African Americans still represented 60% of AIDS deaths for that year (FDOH, 2012, Black Fact Sheet).

MSM is the largest population group unaware that they are infected with HIV, with 54% being uninformed of their HIV status (Florida Department of Health [FDOH], 2012, MSM Fact Sheet). An estimated 7.5% of Florida adults are MSM, accounting for a population of approximately 32,000 in Duval County. While HIV prevalence is disproportionately high for African Americans in the United States, it is even more disproportionate for MSM. MSM represent approximately 2% of the United States population, but accounted for more than half of new HIV infections between 2008 and 2010 (CDC, 2013). Young, African American MSM, ages 13-34, are especially affected by HIV.

Internet Use is High

Studies reveal that younger adults and minorities are the most frequent users of internet access via smartphones. Fifty one percent of African Americans use their smartphones for internet access, compared to 24% of whites. A 2012 survey of HIV-infected individuals indicated that 81% text extensively and more than 50% access the internet through smartphones or tablets. The NM2 project team uses these communication tools to reach the targeted populations to share information and engage in conversation. The team is partnering with similar agencies and organizations to reach as many individuals as possible in the region.

For more information or to follow the NM2 social media sites, visit:

WatsDaTJax on Facebook
WatsDaTJax on Twitter
WatsDaTJax on Instagram
Wats Da T Jax targets African American MSM age 18 and older.
WatsDaPlayJax on Facebook
WatsDaPlayJax on Twitter
WatsDaPlayJax on Instagram
Wats Da Play Jax targets African American heterosexuals age 15 and older.

Vince Evans, NM2 Project Director
904.899.6300, ext. 4120
Kim Deppe, Deppe Communications