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Posted on Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Shocked by statistics, area teens start program to confront HIV, AIDS

By Amy Biolchini


Clockwise from the top: Jen Pan, Barb Gamble, Gail Wolkoff, Allison Melcher, Cleo Ku and Arianna Riegle talk Friday in the Jim Toy Community Center in Ann Arbor during a session of a pilot program called "Prevent and Prevail" created by teens to have open conversations about sex, HIV and AIDS.

Amy Biolchini |

They took a look at the statistics: Those at highest risk for HIV infection are between the ages of 13 and 23. And then the group of teens looked around and realized: those numbers represented themselves.

The teens recently started a new forum called Prevent and Prevail to initiate open conversations about sex, HIV and AIDS.

Frustrated with the constrained atmosphere in school health classes, the teens said they decided it was time to take action. They piloted the forum this month with a small group of people at the Jim Toy Community Center at 319 Braun Court, in Ann Arbor.

The teens are all a part of Dedicated to Make a Change, a nonprofit youth organization in Ypsilanti that promotes social responsibility, justice and diversity through action. Among them are Nils Wilcoxen, 16; Allison Melcher, 16; and Cleo Ku, 15 — all students at the Early College Alliance at Eastern Michigan University.

“It’s to open the discussion,” Cleo said. “Most people are programmed to not talk about these things.”

When it comes to the sexual education portion of health class in school, the teens said the presentation is closed-minded and morally biased to only include heterosexual examples.

Instead of being talked at, Prevent and Prevail is a chance for youth to ask questions in a confidential, safe environment where they’re not made fun of or judged.

“It’s OK to talk about sex in a mature way,” Allison said.

The teens sit in a circle, eat cookies and start the conversation off with questions and a list of terms to spark the conversation.

“If people feel like it’s OK to talk, they’ll be more likely to get tested,” Cleo said.

There are discussion moderators and facilitators who keep the conversation on topic and to insert relevant facts to the discussion, including Ariana Riegle, 22; Jen Pan, 21; and Barb Gamble, 50, all of Ann Arbor.

One of them is Chloe Gurin-Sands, 23, the communications engagement coordinator for the Spectrum Center at the University of Michigan. She emphasized that because it was teens that set up the program, it’s the most relevant way to reach their peers.

“The fact that it’s planned by youth almost ensures that this is stuff that they really want to know about,” Gurin-Sands said.

Allison and Cleo said for teens that don’t have a support network at home where they can talk about sex, Prevent and Prevail is a good way to have their questions answered.

The pilot program was two weeks long and had two sessions on each topic: Relationships and intimacy; sex and pregnancy; HIV and AIDS; homosexuality; transsexuality; religion, bullying; drugs; rape; date rape; abuse; STIs and STDs; gender ethics and laws regarding sex.

Though there are no formal plans for when the Prevent and Prevail program will have its next session, the youth organizers are certain it’s something that needs to happen again.

Gail Wolkoff, executive director for Dedicated to Make a Change who has helped to facilitate the Prevent and Prevail sessions, said the program could soon be coming to several area community centers to engage more teens in the discussion.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 11:28 p.m.

The Pope & the Church are right, wait until marriage. Parents, not Government should be responsible for the sexual education of children. It only increase sexual activities in children, when it was brought into the schools. So, so many more sexual disease than these are out there, & increasing in #'s.

Renee S.

Tue, Sep 4, 2012 : 8:46 a.m.

Unfortunately the evidence does not support your claims:;jsessionid=9D3EDA67C95030BFD6C05BB85BD08B74.d03t01 "Results showed no indications that abstinence-only programs can reduce HIV risk as indicated by self-reported biological and behavioral outcomes. Compared to various controls, the evaluated programs consistently did not affect incidence of unprotected vaginal sex, frequency of vaginal sex, number of partners, sexual initiation, or condom use." At any rate, it's a really dumb idea to marry someone without ever having had sex with them; how would you know if you're sexually compatible? You might end up married to someone you hate having sex with. That seems like a really bad idea. My ex ended up marrying someone who wanted to wait until marriage. Well he waited, and it turned out she had vaginismus. It took them over a year before consummating the marriage and he can count on one hand the number of times they've had sex. Now he's stuck with a woman who barely counts as a wife. That's one nightmare, but there are many possibilities in between- you could luck out, or your sex life could just be really mediocre, but why roll the dice? Choosing the person to spend the rest of your life with is too important to leave a huge dimension of romantic relationships- sex- completely to chance. -A happily married WAHM who had sex on her first date with her now husband


Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 8:30 p.m.

"They took a look at the statistics: Those at highest risk for HIV infection are between the ages of 13 and 23. And then the group of teens looked around and realized: those numbers represented themselves. " This suprises people? They are the most sexually promiscuous ages and we promote the gay and lesbian lifestyle where those statistics are even higher. Good luck; kind of like trying to close the achievement gap and improve the teachers without really changing anything.

Renee S.

Tue, Sep 4, 2012 : 8:34 a.m.

It's not that the age is particularly promiscuous, it's that this is the age when people become sexually active and enter the population of people susceptible to STDs. So yes, 18 year olds have more sex than 11 year olds and are more likely to get HIV! And since once you get HIV you have it forever, the number of people who can get HIV in any given high school class gets smaller and smaller as it gets older, so the number of people who contract it is fewer. So even if the behavior of 80 year olds was just as risky as that of 20 year olds, fewer 80 year olds than 20 year olds would contract HIV because in that group of 80 year olds there would be those who already contracted HIV at 20, 40, 60.


Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 11:15 p.m.

You are correct. I believe that this surprised us because it is not only the age group of ourselves, but our peers, family, and friends as well. I have a little brother who will be in this group soon. We had never thought about this on a personal level. It could impact not just us, not just people we didn't know, but our loved ones as well. That's when we knew we had to do something.

Gail wolkoff

Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 5:01 p.m.

Dedicated to Make a Change, L3C provides a learning environment for youth to examine and learn about issues such as justice, diversity and social responsibility through action. Our mission is to connect youth with the world to promote peace, greater understanding and a love of learning. To learn more:

Basic Bob

Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 3:29 p.m.

"morally biased to only include heterosexual examples" Shocking... sexually transmitted diseases are remarkably unbiased.

Gail wolkoff

Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 4:43 p.m.

All were included. Transsexual, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, Question, Ally, youth between 12 and 22 were invited. Jim Toy Community Center is a partner in Prevent and Prevail StatusSexy sponsors some open discussions.

Angry Moderate

Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 3:20 p.m.

I don't get it. I attended AAPS--there was no issue with discussing HIV, the health classes were not exclusively heterosexual (in high school at least), and they ALREADY had teens come into every health class to lead the discussion about sex (through a program run by Planned Parenthood). Also, these white and Asian females are most certainly not the demographic that is at the "highest risk."

Joe Hood

Tue, Sep 4, 2012 : 3:12 a.m.

The issue with Planned Parenthood is abortion (37% of PP funding is through abortions (Yes, they are three percent of services)). And though there may be an educational element to PP, there is a profit motive to be looked at here. Just imagine if PP was Exxon and they were here in Ann Arbor to give a talk on the environment.


Tue, Sep 4, 2012 : 2:59 a.m.

And the Ryan-Romney Ticket wants to eliminate ALL Planned Parenthood funding. Did you miss something?

Angry Moderate

Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 8:12 p.m.

Sparty - this state already elected Republicans 2 years ago.


Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 7:35 p.m.

Wow .... and if the Republicans are elected, they want to eliminate all Planned Parenthood funding.


Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 3:15 p.m.

I really cannot understand all the hostility to this program or to HIV prevention programs from the commentators here. Are we still in the "those who get it deserve it" mentality of some of the '80's? I hope not.

Basic Bob

Tue, Sep 4, 2012 : 3:10 a.m.

Lots of information, still more denial - freak medical accidents and other reasons. Most people are getting HIV from having multiple sexual partners or sharing needles. This is not a moral judgment but the harsh reality. If you don't know a person well enough to know if they are at risk, then you are at risk.


Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 7:34 p.m.

Because people are still born with it, because medical accidents still happen, because people still lie about it, because people don't know they have it and pass it on to their partners, because protection sometimes fails, because some people use drugs and fail to admit it, and for a variety of other reasons ....


Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 5:46 p.m.

Lovaduck I think the hostility is dirented towards people who still don't get it, even with all the info available. I kind of feel the same way when I see someone on oxygen, while still smoking. We know how to prevent aids for most, yet this is still a problem. Why?


Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 2:30 p.m.

Its nice to know that "Conservatives" still run our local schools? "Frustrated with the constrained atmosphere in school health classes,"

Dog Guy

Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 2:25 p.m.

"The group of teens looked around and realized: those numbers represented themselves.." Yet this discussion group contrasts with the numbers in the July story, "HIV on the rise among young, black gay men in Washtenaw County." In any case, no good may be expected from stirring a pot with the ingredients listed. Good luck to you, concerned young white women.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 3:41 p.m.

I agree, I was a little taken aback that many of the people pictured and quoted appear to be young white women... HIV prevalence is highest among young gay black men, and it would be great to support and encourage these young men to speak out about this issue openly and publicly as well. I think this would send a great message to their peers...

Angry Moderate

Tue, Sep 4, 2012 : 12:54 a.m.

A coincidence? So they didn't ask to be left out of the picture because of the "traditional power structure"?


Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 11:09 p.m.

@Angry Moderate: The program (as well as the organizations it is sponsored by) has had people of different genders, from many different ethnic backgrounds, and of different orientations come in and participate. It is merely a coincidence that the picture shows only a specific "type" of people. If you have doubts, you are welcome to contact us personally.

Angry Moderate

Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 10:31 p.m.

LOL, right, how convenient.

Gail wolkoff

Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 4:47 p.m.

This photograph is of the people who were willing to be photographed. Many teens and co-facilitators, who are not part of the traditional power structure, did not want to be in the picture.

Lisa D

Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.

The fact that youth started this project and are supported by knowledgable adult allies, signifies its critical need, and helps in insure will be successful in providing much needed accurate, timely information and support that's simply not always available at home or in the schools. This programs can literally save young lives and will help stem the growing rise of HIV in youth. Bravo and thanks to all involved!


Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 5:45 p.m.

Thank you for your support. This is exactly what we were hoping to convey. -One of the teens involved.

music to my ear

Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 1:11 p.m.

its great that people are talking about preventing Hiv again ,it has not been discussed as much as when it first was discovered , but as we all recently know ,with the story published about the ypsi young man it is still a threat, we must not let our guard down.


Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

What can you expect when various school systems throughout the US pass out free (tax dollars) condoms to first graders all the way through 12th grade, I guess abstention should be encouraged but that may be morally unethical for our school systems. You get what you teach.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 3:39 p.m.

Again, teaching is not just about what happens in a school room. That is part of the equation, to be sure, and an important part... but we are all responsible for helping to grow these young people into wonderful adults - that is, if we have the capacity to be wonderful (nonjudgmental, open minded, supportive) adults ourselves. High rates of HIV among young people is not caused by giving out condoms to young people -- that is absolutely absurd. The article you cite below states that condoms will be made available to elementary school students that REQUEST them, not that they will be distributed to first graders without reason. This is an important distinction. AND it states that if these first graders request condoms, that they will be counseled before they are given the condoms - that means they will have a discussion with a nurse who will talk to them about why they need condoms, etc. A lot can happen during these counseling sessions - that is part of the sex education that young people need. Teaching abstinence in schools IS unethical, because it does NOT help young people acclimate to the world around them, and it does NOT lead to lower rates of teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections. Rather, giving accurate information in a non-judgmental, open way, can help support young people to make smart choices for themselves.


Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 9:22 p.m.

Sh1: unfortunately the world does not revolve around A2, many other school districts to follow next year. See: Condoms Condoms for First Graders- Step Right Kids.


Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 5:40 p.m.

sh1, here you go. "The school committee in Provincetown unanimously adopted a condom distribution policy for the elementary school and high school on Tuesday." UNANIMOUSLY!


Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 4:49 p.m.

Condoms to first graders!? That's quite a scoop. Please cite your research:


Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 1:25 p.m.

This is what our leaders in DC are pushing. If we don't like it, we need to vote for a change this coming November.

Michigan Man

Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 12:33 p.m.

I thought Ann Arbor had the smartest people in the nation? Where were the parents and the parental educational role that most mothers and fathers try to provide for these young people? Open the discussion? What? Most young people I know have been talking about this public health issues for decades. Does anyone remember Magic from MSU? How many sexual partners did he have? Time for the young people in and around Ann Arbor to wake up and get it together.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 3:34 p.m.

I think that's exactly what they're doing! And kudos to the parents who raised these kids to be brave enough and strong enough to do something about HIV in their community and among their peers. We can't rely on schools alone, or parents alone - education happens all around us in every facet of our community - we are all responsible for helping young people be the wonderful talented amazing individuals they have the potential to be.


Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 11:41 a.m.

I thought that the changes made by educators to push sex education down to younger and younger kids was supposed to solve this problem or at least bring it to an acceptable level for our society. I wonder what went wrong? Go figure.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 3:31 p.m.

solve what problem? the problem of young people acquiring HIV, or the problem of sex education in schools still being a heteronormative, "vanilla," and often uncomfortable place for young people to gather information and express their concerns and issues? There is no easy solution to either of these problems, but thank goodness for these young people taking matters into their hands to try and address this for themselves. Must have been all that fabulous schooling they had as younger kids that helped them be brave enough to do so. What went wrong? Sounds like things are going right for these kids...


Mon, Sep 3, 2012 : 11:21 p.m.

Sex education currently is not a good way to convey the information we need. It is a room with our peers and friends, where it is fair game to laugh at and tease someone who simply asks a question. We believe that this is the source of many issues that teens face regarding sex.