Advocating for HIV Prevention

Nicole Elinoff graduated the same year as UCF’s 50th anniversary. Now, she spends her days involved in outreach activities in the Central Florida community, working to spread HIV prevention throughout the area.

“Being able to educate and raise awareness in others about HIV is some of my favorite work,” she said.

Elinoff is the sexual minority health coordinator at the Florida Department of Health in Orange County. She also serves as the regional HIV prevention coordinator for Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Brevard counties.

“As a native Floridian and Central Florida community member, I take HIV very seriously,” she said. “Florida is disproportionately impacted by HIV.”

The state of Florida is at the top of the list for new HIV cases. Out of the entire United States, Miami-Dade area is ranked the number one location for new HIV cases. Closer to home, the Orlando metropolitan area is ranked fifth.

“In 2012, I lost one of the closest people in my world to AIDS-related complications,” Elinoff said. “Since then I’ve made a commitment to do everything I can to prevent new HIV cases, raise awareness and help break down HIV-related stigma.”

When her uncle passed away, Elinoff wanted to advocate for better HIV prevention. This desire led to her becoming a training facilitator, teaching others how to properly administer HIV testing. She also helps the testers and counselors become certified to do so.

“My favorite part of my job is being able to conduct these trainings and equip these individuals with the skills, drive and passion to become the best HIV tester and counselor they can be,” she said.

Elinoff has been inspiring others since her time at UCF. She was a member of Voices for Planned Parenthood, the Young Women Leaders Program, UCF’s Women Studies program and the Psychology Advising Department. She was also the president of the National Organization for Women (NOW).

“As president, one of my proudest accomplishments was ensuring the organization’s sustainability,” she said. “When I entered that leadership role, the organization didn’t have many members. It was surviving on the backs of a few people. At the end of my term as president, the organization had many new members and is now, many years later, stronger than ever.”

Elinoff also mentored seventh-grade grade girls in Seminole County and their UCF Big Sister counterparts.

“Mentorship is an extremely valuable aspect of transformational leadership as it works to build and strengthen communities,” she said. “My understanding of leadership was greatly shaped through these activities.”

While studying for her psychology degree and women’s studies minor, Elinoff found herself increasingly more involved in social justice activities.

“I am grateful for my education, as it helped change and shape my personal worldview,” she said. “I was able to build a framework of understanding around people’s cognition and behaviors as well as social societies’ influences on individuals.”

Elinoff advocated for reproductive justice, comprehensive sex education, feminism, mental health and overall healthy behaviors.

“I had a firm understanding of the intersections of race, poverty and gender,” she said. “All of which greatly impact health outcomes for communities and individuals. This experience helped create a strong foundation for my HIV work.”

After she graduated in 2013, she balanced nonprofit HIV work as a volunteer with a job as a server to sustain her daily expenses. Eventually, after a season spent working 60 to 70 hour work weeks continuing her path to a career in HIV prevention, she achieved the role she has now.

“When I originally took the training to become a tester, back in 2014, I had no idea that years later I would be the person conducting the course,” she said.

Now she builds and provides new training or works on developing new collaborations. Others are grow into leadership positions through her help.

“HIV testing is such an important role in the healthcare continuum, and helping build new testers gives me so much joy,” Elinoff said. “There is so much people don’t know, and this information can help save someone’s life and empower them to help others.”

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