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Apart from a couple of reporters, only one audience member turned up at IS 230 in Jackson Heights to watch "Reality Check," a performance by a Manhattan-based theater company that was co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and state Sen. John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights).
"It's a tough demographic to reach," said Sabini, whose office sent out more than 200 fliers to registered voters aged 18 to 20 in his district, which covers Jackson Heights, Corona, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst and parts of Woodside.
"It is a tough audience because adolescents don't tend to focus on their health," said Sandra Estepa, the regional women's health consultant for the Department of Health and Human Services in New York.
The Department of Health and Human Services coordinated the event, the first such effort in Queens, to coincide with national Women's Health Week.
A diverse cast of players from the NiteStar Program at St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital Center in Manhattan staged "Reality Check," a mock reality show that addressed topics such as teen pregnancy, safe sex and homosexuality with elements of pop culture.
"When it comes down to it, this is so important," said 24-year-old actress Cheryl Moy, a native of Flushing. "This is to make a difference."
The problems addressed are particularly acute in the areas Sabini represents, where the city Department of Health said 223 people were infected with HIV/AIDS in 2001. That same year 2,761 people were living with AIDS, the department said.
The Health Department also found that 42 percent of women received late or no prenatal care in 2001, a rate 12 percent worse than the New York average.
"Your concern over health starts the minute you're born," Sabini said standing in the auditorium of the building where he was born before it became a school. "Take care of the structure God gave you to live the rest of your life in."
Over the last several months, Sabini has made a major issue out of health care for Queens' underserved communities, particularly immigrants, who he said often encounter language and culture barriers.
While the area's residents suffer a higher incidence of many diseases - chronic and acquired - the hospitalization rate for the region's residents, 59 percent of whom are foreign-born, is 20 percent lower than the rest of the city, according to Department of Health figures.
Sabini has organized free asthma and cancer screenings and public health forums for area residents and championed the proposed construction of a major cancer center at Elmhurst Hospital Center.
The non-existent turnout was disappointing, said Estepa, who indicated that her agency would debrief the program and fine-tune it for the future.
"I don't think we're going to give up," Estepa said. "It's too important."
Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.
©2004 Community Newspaper Group
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