Shocked by statistics, area teens start program to confront HIV, AIDS
Amy Biolchini | AnnArbor.com
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.