In a landmark moment for Vanderbilt University, the HIV Vaccine Trials Program (HVTP) recently notched its 1,000th volunteer, an example of Nashville's deep commitment towards the cause.

There to help that happen was Vic Sorrell, the HVTP's newest community educator. Perched at the forefront of Nashville's fight against HIV, Sorrel has extensive experience in HIV prevention and education programs, and is well suited to his latest task: to further inform the Middle Tennessee community about current vaccine trials and create awareness for HIV research.

In his previous post, Sorrell served the Nashville community as Coordinator of GLBTQI HIV Prevention Education at Nashville CARES. A graduate of Belmont University, he'd previously worked in marketing and promotions in the country-music industry, but a recession-induced layoff in 2008 allowed him to reevaluate his priorities.

“I'd always had the desire to do something philanthropic, something that served my community, whether that be the gay community, through HIV work or just diversity in general,” Sorrell said.

In September 2008, a personal friend told him about a possible job opportunity at Nashville CARES. When he interviewed for the position, Sorrell was convinced that he'd found the right professional outlet for his ambitions.

“There was such an interesting energy in the room,” Sorrell said. “It was one of the few times in my life where something felt so right.”

Upon his hiring, Sorrell's background in public speaking and event coordination, honed by years in the music business, was invaluable when addressing groups and performing other outreach activities stressing the importance of HIV prevention. His tenure with the organization became perfect preparation for taking part in a national movement such as HVTP, he said.

Thanks to HTVP, Nashville remains one of the leading contributors to HIV research, even compared to major metropolitan areas such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Sorrell, a former volunteer in the study, suggests that a strong sense of community makes Nashville a key contributor to the cause.
“The city is smaller and it's easier to reach people here,” he said. “They're willing to listen to our message and help where they can. In many other cities, people are hit all the time with these causes; in Nashville, this is a unique opportunity to help.”

The HVTP has recently begun a nationwide study, “Hope Takes Action,” designed to yield limited information on the effectiveness of a preliminary HIV vaccine. This spring the organization also designed an aggressive media campaign on numerous social-networking sites in an effort to target potential participants.

The study is currently seeking men who have sex with men to participate in a vaccine trial. All participants must be between 18 and 45 years old and HIV-negative.

“My hope is to have Nashville as the number one city in the trial,” Sorrell said. “Right now we're about midway down the list — I'd like to see us represented at the top.”

Though he's fully committed to his new role, Sorrell retains a part-time position with Nashville CARES, focusing on HIV testing and risk counseling, so he can keep his hand in on that side of the issue as well.

“My personal goal is to contribute to something that is groundbreaking in the gay community, in the HIV community and in the community as a whole,” Sorrell said.

Photo courtesy of Red Bull

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