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Conversations with Jaimi Romano

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jaimi Romano.

Hi Jaimi, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
My name is Jaimi Romano and I am 27 years old. I was born and raised in Arizona and am the youngest of three girls. My parents taught us at a young age that success required ambition and an eagerness to learn, and I attribute most of my achievements to their constant support.

Neither of my parents went to college (my dad actually dropped out of high school at 16), but both of them worked extremely hard to get to where they are today. It was very important to them that all three of us daughters go to college and get a degree, and from a young age, I was very focused on academics.

When I turned 15, I started working to save up for college with the intention of studying journalism, but after reading a book on the oppression of women throughout the world called Half the Sky, I switched gears to Global Health.

After high school, I chose to attend Arizona State University as it was one of the few colleges in the US offering a degree in Global Health at the time. During my time at ASU, I stumbled across a nonprofit, HEAL International, that was focused on sexual health education locally and in East Africa. I interned for the nonprofit and learned how to facilitate conversations about health with community members.

I had never received comprehensive sexual health education as a teen, and it was pretty taboo to openly discuss this in my family. I came to the realization that I was already sexually active but had never learned about safe sex or even how to say “no” if I didn’t want to do something.

I felt let down by the education system and frustrated that youth are shamed for getting pregnant, contracting STDs, or having unhealthy relationships, but the only education they get is about abstinence (which is very unrealistic for most youth). This started my passion for working for health-related nonprofits.

While at HEAL, I started training university students on how to facilitate open discussions about sexual health and the importance of getting regularly tested for STDs. I would never have guessed it earlier in life, but I became very passionate about stigma elimination when it comes to talking about sexual health. I started volunteering at a group home for at-risk and sex-trafficked youth ages 11-17, and lead discussions about healthy relationships and sexual health.

It was less about the education and more about rebuilding confidence and healthy communication for youth that had their childhood taken away by people who had done horrific things to them. They couldn’t say “no”, identify how they felt, or feel like they could trust people again, and our team’s goal was to provide tools and activities that they could use to find their power and individuality.

I did this for almost 4 years while simultaneously earning my degree, working at a restaurant, and moving into an Executive Assistant position at HEAL, and later on, Director of Operations. During this time I also met my partner, John Luke, and began taking acting classes for fun (more on this later).

In 2019, two years after I graduated college, I decided that it was time to move from HEAL and continue my growth in the nonprofit sector. I became Director of Marketing & Events at Aunt Rita’s Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the elimination of, and suffering from, HIV and AIDS in Arizona. Aunt Rita’s is a very successful nonprofit that runs programs to end HIV and support those living with it, and they also fundraise on behalf of partner agencies that provide critical HIV services to Arizonans.

They also engage in advocacy to support people living with or at risk for HIV. Aunt Rita’s was at the forefront of SB1346 to eliminate the “no promo homo” law in sexual health education, and they are currently working on getting opt-out HIV testing in emergency rooms and correctional facilities to help people who may not know they have HIV. I have been working at Aunt Rita’s since August 2019, and I am very proud of this organization.

The public perception is that HIV is no longer an issue, but the reality is that it is still an epidemic and there is so much stigma when it comes to getting tested, getting on treatment, or simply even talking to a doctor about sexual health honestly. As Director of Marketing & Events, I planned our fundraisers (AIDS Walk Arizona, RED Brunch, etc), supported sponsors and donors, and generated our marketing content. It was challenging work but very rewarding, especially when I met people who were impacted by our work.

A few months ago, I began a new position with Aunt Rita as Administrative & Marketing Manager so that I could spend more time focusing on acting. After taking acting classes for a few years, I decided to pursue acting as a career and have been acting in various projects in Arizona and New Mexico. Aunt Rita was very generous to keep me on as a full-time employee, and I still do all of our marketing in addition to website management, CRM management, volunteer management, and more (they always say in a nonprofit you will wear many hats).

Again, I never thought I would be involved in acting, but the signs were always there as a kid. I was very creative and imaginative, and acting pushes me to access that side of myself again. I truly am so lucky that I get to have a job I love that has a positive impact, and I get to pursue acting and tell stories that move people. I have even started writing screenplays and producing some short films with my partner.

I have an extremely supportive network of family, friends, and coworkers who encourage me to do whatever makes me happy. I am grateful for all the opportunities I have gotten, and I look forward to whatever I will accomplish in the future.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
I have had a relatively smooth road, and really, my own self-doubts have been the biggest hurdle.

I’ve always struggled with my self-confidence and a fear of failure, but I try not to let it get in the way of what I love doing. Life is too short to spend my time doing things that I don’t love.

Some people have a difficult time understanding why I would choose to work in the nonprofit sector and act. I have been told that I will be a volunteer for the rest of my life, that I will never make it as an actor, that I will never make money, etc.

Luckily, none of those things matter to me all that much because I am doing what I love.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
Since I included this in my bio, I will be relatively brief here.

At Aunt Rita’s Foundation, I am the Administrative & Marketing Manager. I focus primarily on our marketing and many “behind the scenes” tasks that help the organization run smoothly. To the community, I am known for planning Aunt Rita’s fundraisers that support HIV services in Arizona.

Over the last few years, I have planned the annual AIDS Walk Arizona, the largest statewide walk and fundraiser for HIV, RED Brunch, Aunt Rita’s signature World AIDS Day event, and RED is the Night, a themed fundraising gala that supports Aunt Rita’s programs. Our funding to partner agencies from AIDS Walk Arizona helps provide HIV testing, treatment, prevention, behavioral health, housing, and more to people who are living with or at risk for HIV.

I am very proud of the fundraisers I have planned because the hard work always pays off. Each year we have raised more money than the year before, and during the pandemic, we quickly switched gears to fundraise through virtual events.

It’s so wonderful to see the impact that our organization makes on the community and the people who are served through our philanthropy and programs. I always try to find a way to make our cause relevant to everyone, because HIV does affect every person whether they know it or not.

I started working in the nonprofit sector when I was 20, and I am grateful for all of the people who have guided me and trusted me with big responsibilities since then. As a young person, you tend to feel inadequate and unsure of what your next move is, and it’s important to work with people who are invested in your growth and not just treat you like a kid.

What was your favorite childhood memory?
My favorite childhood memories were around the holidays. Almost my entire family lives in Arizona, so for each holiday, we would all meet at my grandparents’ house for dinner.

My aunts, uncles, and cousins would all come together and do a “potluck” style dinner, and the adults would tell stories from when they were kids. Both my Gam and my Papa were only children, and they made it a point to get the family together as much as possible because they didn’t have much of that as kids.

My grandparents taught me how important family is, and I’m thankful for that. As an adult, I’ve learned that family can be anyone, not just the people who are related by blood.

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Image Credits
Brian Parillo Photography and Randy’s Vision Photography

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