The REALL team from the Alpha Omega Care Center hopes to bring its message of respecting the dignity of the individual to local youth, according to Team Director Nancy DeBacker.
“I love the name, ‘Respect everything about Life and Love,’ because it focuses on the dignity of the individual,” DeBacker said. “There’s so much going on now, with #MeToo and abuse and bullying and negative, unhealthy relationships, so we really want to focus on healthy relationships.”
The team aims to recruit college students who are “committed to upholding the value and dignity of human life, promoting sexual integrity and purity, and empowering young people to make informed decisions about the emotional, physical, and spiritual aspects of their sexuality,” according to their promotional flyer.
Students will work with the center to introduce their sexual risk avoidance curriculum to Hillsdale Intermediate School District and local church youth groups. With regard to schools, the curriculum must be approved by the sex education board of the school county. According to DeBacker, the process has begun but is still currently pending.
Even if the school board doesn’t accept the curriculum, “Willing to Wait,” the team will continue forward with church youth groups and parent education nights. It has recently been implemented in Kent ISD.
The care center has worked with Hillsdale students in the past to promote an abstinence program, which had some success in the early 1990s and then in the mid-2000s. After the program fizzled out, DeBacker decided to bring it back.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for students to have an opportunity for impact: to be inspirations, role models, and to challenge middle school and high school youth to the higher ground by respecting themselves, their own dignity, and the dignity of individuals,” DeBacker said.
Freshman Sophia Berryhill is the team student contact who will be responsible for connecting students to the center. According to Berryhill, the program represented a harmony of certain interests and pursuits she has.
“It was kind of a natural funneling for me in my interests and personal stories I had heard in my high school youth group,” Berryhill said. “I’m seeing this as a way I can hopefully share, in light of my interests and the stories from people close to me, how to navigate [sexuality] as a young person.”
Since the curriculum will involve college-aged students and contain more biological explanation than the typical abstinence curriculum, Berryhill hopes this strategy will be more effective.
“While this curriculum is still promoting waiting to have sex until marriage, the way that we’re going about that is different and that will better people a lot more,” Berryhill said. “A lot of people don’t get the reasons. We’re trying to speak into how [sex before marriage] can hurt you emotionally and physically and spiritually and how all of those things are interconnected spiritually.”
While the current sexual education fails to fill in all the gaps, the new curriculum will tie these elements together, Berryhill said.
“There’s something lacking in how people talk about contraception and birth control,” Berryhill said. “The hormonal effects and the mental health effects that birth control has proved to have on women is not really talked about enough. There’s a lot of stuff in the middle that you need to fill in.”
Director of Health Services Brock Lutz spoke to this missing element in the current conversation.
“Our culture is in a crisis in this area and certainly someone needs to speak to these topics,” Lutz wrote in an email. “I find that many Christian, conservative families are actually hesitant to talk to their kids openly about sex or don’t exactly know how to do that and thus the culture is coming in and inserting its own beliefs.”
Lutz went on to say that the conversation needs to include the “why” behind waiting until marriage.
“There needs to be a voice that [says] waiting until marriage is the best choice that young people can make sexually and that every young person is actually capable of that or can make different choices once they have started down that road,” Lutz said.
According to Lutz, young people need to hear a clearer message than the one they hear from the current culture.
“I do believe we are suffering from many mixed messages about this culturally and so the message needs to be very clear and a very positive message that this is the best way to navigate through premarital life and the best choices in order to set up the healthiest marriage in the future,” Lutz said.
DeBacker said the “Willing to Wait” curriculum and REALL Team presentations will educate young people “based on factual and solid information.”
“It’s more than just saying no,” DeBacker said. “This generation of young people wants to know why. We want to treat people with respect and them asking why is valid. We want to give people all of the tools, the who, what, when, where, and why for them to become the best version of themselves.”
DeBacker’s experience with previous abstinence programs in Hillsdale has shown that the involvement of college students is invaluable. For many young people, choosing to not be sexually active was simply never an option presented to them, Debacker said.
“So many times over the years, we’ve had students say, ‘No one ever told me I had the choice to say, ‘No, I’m not going to fall in that behavior,’” DeBacker said. “That was stunning to me. That’s why I love to see the REALL team, the young men and women, give that message because it resonates with the students.”