Like many middle schoolers, Juliana was not comfortable talking about sex and sexuality when she started participating in Making Proud Choices, a sexual health education program, in the fall.
Making Proud Choices is a new program of Latino Network, funded through a five-year federal grant through the Multnomah County Health Department. Like all of our programs, it provides bilingual and bicultural programming that engages youth and their parents to discuss a topic that can often be difficult for Latino families: sex. Latino Network staff have adapted the program to ensure Latino/a students see themselves and their culture reflected in the program.
“It’s rewarding knowing that the students are able to learn in the language they prefer - English, Spanish or both,” said Vanessa LaTorre, Health and Wellness Coordinator. “It’s incredibly meaningful because it validates a person’s identity.”
As Making Proud Choices sessions continued, Julianna started to use the anonymous question jar during group meetings. Then she started volunteering during the meetings. Throughout the program, she slowly grew more comfortable with participating in group activities and discussions related to sex and sexual health.
“It’s rewarding to watch them grow into the topic, meaning they often start off shy and say that they don’t need the information because they aren’t sexually active yet,” said Veronica Sunderland-Perez, Health and Wellness Manager. “Then they realize that this is information that they can share with friends and family who are sexually active, or they can save the knowledge when they do become active.”
Now, close to the end of Making Proud Choices program, Julianna is comfortable enough to participate in role play activities during meetings and take a safety kit home. She also said during a meeting that she demonstrated to her parents the proper steps for how to use a condom and make proud and responsible choices!
“I’m so proud of her and the rest of the group,” said Wendy Lopez Schmidt, a Making Proud Choices Instructor for Latino Network. “It’s a fabulous example of what this program can do to impact families and youth when it comes to sex.”
Juliana is just one of our participants. In fact, more than 75% of youth who participate are more likely to talk with their partners about condoms, birth control, testing and other forms of protection. Students even reported that they learned how to have healthy conversations about sex with their family after participating - 63% were more comfortable discussing their sexuality with their parents after the program.
That’s a key component of our program - engaging parents as well, who often have a tough time opening up. Using the Opciones y Education (OYE) curriculum, parents are engaged through parent workshops, led by bilingual and bicultural staff members.
“It’s important to respect where they’re at and find ways to talk about sex with their kids in a way that is healthy,” Veronica said. “It’s necessary to reframe the topic with their kids so that their kids feel supported - they need to know how to help their kids achieve their life goals. It’s makes families and the community overall healthier when parents have these conversations about sex with their kids.”
With the success of the first Making Proud Choices cohort, we are planning to expand the program to reach more Latino/a students in middle and high schools. They also hope to form partnerships to reach Latino students in the juvenile justice system and alternative schools.
“I view sexual health as a basic human right,” said Veronica. “We want to continue to seek and empower youth and parents to lead healthier sexual lives.”
We would like to thank the Multnomah County Health Department for funding Making Proud Choices/ACT and E.C. Brown Foundation for funding OYE.