It can be a dreaded subject among parents and teens, most often called “the talk.”
It’s debated when and where kids should learn about sex, but they learn it, often from peers. So, what if that information they were learning was, well, correct? Instead of myths about pregnancy and safe sex practices, teens could be learning facts.
That’s a goal Cori Stennett has as Planned Parenthood’s Community Outreach Educator in Juneau. She started in this new position in October and has been a voice for Planned Parenthood in the community, in coalitions and at events.
She’s “really getting out there and being the face of Planned Parenthood in our community,” Stennett said of what she’s been doing since taking the position. “That’s ranged from other health organizations, to being a presence out at UAS, to tabling at events like the health fair — the Women’s Health Summit, to the Juneau Project Homeless Connect.”
Planned Parenthood offers a variety of services, more than 90 percent of which are aimed at reducing the number of unintended pregnancies, Alaska Education Manager Katherine Huffman said.
“While access to safe and legal abortion care is really essential to women’s health care, most of what we do is providing cancer screenings and reproductive health exams and sexually transmitted infection screenings and treatment, that actually protects women’s fertility,” Huffman explains.
“A lot of people don’t really realize we have really accessible, affordable quality care and we’re staffed by highly trained doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals.”
Huffman points out that Planned Parenthood clinics offer services to men, women and teens, and that services are offered on a sliding fee scale.
Still, another aspect of Planned Parenthood is their community outreach and education.
Stennett presents at events and to different organizations, but a big project she’s working on currently is the Teen Council.
“The mission of Teen Council,” as shown in the brochures for the program, which should be popping up around Juneau in the next few months, “is to empower teenagers to educate and inspire their peers, their families and their communities.
“The Teen Council educates about human sexuality and healthy decision making,” Stennett said. “It inspires teens to use their voices to advocate for just and humane sexual attitudes and policies.
“We’re in the early phases of recruiting (teens), we’ll be spreading the word at schools, letting different teachers and community members know about this opportunity, we’ll probably be listing a couple of little recruitments around town.
“We’ll go where youth are, if that’s Zach Gordon Youth Center, at the schools, different clubs”.
Topics the teens will learn about to educate their peers include healthy relationships, body image, STI prevention, gender and sexual orientation, abstinence, pregnancy prevention, birth control and media literacy.
The program is open to students in grades 10, 11 and 12 and Stennett says she looks forward to having a program that has “a variety of people, gender diversity, and also youth that are representative of our Juneau community.”
The teens who are selected for the Teen Council will have the opportunity to attend a retreat in August, right before school starts, and will have regular meetings during the school year.
Stennett anticipates students will be ready to make presentations or educate their peers and the community in late fall or early winter.
Huffman wanted to point out there are a number of benefits to the teens who make up the Teen Council.
“We will provide them with lots of opportunities to increase their skills and, well, we’ll learn from them too, but it’s a great opportunity for them to have something like this on their résumé or there have been cases where teens could use this activity as a special senior project.”
Huffman also pointed out that in a Western Washington Council, the teens “involved themselves in a yearly teen lobby day, where they totally are in charge of this huge lobbying effort, where they educate themselves on issues that are important to them, then they travel, they all go to Olympia, and they meet with their legislators and talk to them about what their priorities are.”
Lucky for Juneau students, they are already in the capital. It is easy for teens to feel they have no voice when they have no vote and may feel that their opinions aren’t taken seriously. A program like the teen lobby day allows students to be proactive in making their voices heard by those who could enact change.
So far, Stennett says she’s had a really positive response from the community.
“I think one of the most endearing responses we received from the community was from some teens themselves, with the Juneau Community Foundation Youth Action Committee. We were invited to submit a grant and these youth identified some areas for funding this year and they included healthy relationships and really tackling unsafe sex practices in our teenage population, so we submitted a grant with them and they had excellent questions and they really saw this program as something that could be beneficial, they were able to see into the action – the education action we’re working on here.” Stennett said.
Her goal is to create an exciting, engaging and fun environment for youth to come together to talk about different viewpoints and different opinions, attitudes and beliefs, she said.
Overall, Planned Parenthood is continuing in its efforts to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, not only by providing services, but by encouraging education. Next time your kid comes home with information about sex from another kid at school, there’s a good possibility, the information will be educated and encouraging safe and healthy decisions.
For more information about Teen Council and other outreach and education programs Planned Parenthood provides, contact Cori Stennett at email@example.com or 209-7051.
• Contact Neighbors editor Melissa Griffiths at 523-2272 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.