Since he began teaching high school in 1969, Thomas Porton has involved his students in community service activities. He has created many projects involving the homeless, the elderly and youth. However, his main focus is on HIV/AIDS education and awareness. In 1992, Porton decided to fight against the disease in the Bronx, NY, which was rapidly becoming one of the most highly infected areas of the country. He established a relationship between his school, James Monroe High School, and Project Bravo, the HIV/AIDS outreach branch of Montefiore Medical Center. This collaboration began with the training of 10 students as HIV/AIDS Peer Educators, who learned how to give classroom lessons about safe behaviors and virus prevention to their peers. Since its beginning, the Monroe/Project BRAVO HIV/AIDS Peer Educators Program has grown to include several components.
The AIDS-Van is Porton's personal mini-van/information vehicle, providing street corner outreach throughout New York City. Student peer educators provide flyers, pamphlets and personalized information to passers-by throughout the year. Student volunteers work the project after school and on weekends and holidays.
Students deliver packages of needed toiletries, fruits and candies, called Baskets of Love, to hospitalized HIV/AIDS patients. Each basket is accompanied with an inspirational letter written by the students. These baskets are delivered year round. Since 1992, approximately 8,000 Baskets of Love have been delivered.
Porton has created a special Language Arts curriculum that condenses community service with reading and writing skills in order to motivate young people to reach out to people living with HIV/AIDS. The program, Creating Compassion, teaches students tolerance and compassion, disease prevention and HIV/AIDS portrayal in the media.
Porton has also organized six annual Teen to Teen Conferences, bringing together hundreds of high school students and teachers, to educate and motivate them to start peer education programs in other schools. These conferences have won citywide and national recognition.
In addition, Porton started the AIDS Lives in Every Neighborhood (ALIEN) Players. This is a group of teachers who present educational, dramatic productions to teen and other community groups at venues throughout the Bronx and New York City.
Porton's programs are funded through donations, grants and fundraisers. He has received many honors and awards, including the State Farm Insurance Good Neighbor Award and has recently been inducted into the Teachers Hall of Fame.