The Alpha Omega center pro­vides clothes to local res­i­dents | Sophia Berryhill

Stu­dents from Hillsdale College began a new part­nership with the Alpha Omega Care Center in Hillsdale. Through the Respect Every­thing About Life and Love Program, the stu­dents share per­sonal stories about healthy friend­ships and sexual rela­tion­ships, pro­moting absti­nence edu­cation to local schools and youth groups. Sophomore Sophia Berryhill, the REALL Program student director, said she started vol­un­teering at Alpha Omega her freshman year before starting the program. 

“I want to be a midwife, and I always knew that I was really pas­sionate about women’s health and caring for women,” Berryhill said. “It seemed like the perfect place for me to volunteer.”

The program has come in and out of exis­tence over the past 30 years and was orig­i­nally called Con­cerned About Teen Sex­u­ality. REALL Team Adult Director Nancy DeBacker, who orig­i­nally started CATS,  said she approached Berryhill about revi­tal­izing the program.

“Hillsdale College stu­dents have been making an impact on the com­munity and sharing their heart with people about choosing healthy rela­tion­ships since the ’90s,” DeBacker said. “It’s fun to work with them and helping them get to know what the preg­nancy center movement is about.” 

DeBacker encouraged stu­dents to bring back the REALL program, and she said Berryhill was the first student to take ini­tiative with recruiting other students. 

“Sophia caught the fire, and we revived the REALL program,” DeBacker said. “It has been a delight to see her take hold of the lead­ership here. She’s done such a great job with out­reach and getting other stu­dents to participate.” 

REALL is cur­rently made up of five members, two boys and three girls. Members share their own stories about healthy and unhealthy rela­tion­ships through presentations. 

“The number has actually been really good because we were all able to be there for the pre­sen­tation, and that’s about the number who can go to each pre­sen­tation without it being super over­whelming,” Berryhill said. 

The team gave its first pre­sen­tation last fall to a youth group at Hillsdale Free Methodist Church. Berryhill said the kids were ages 11 – 16, and she received pos­itive feedback from those in atten­dance. Berryhill said the team is cur­rently reaching out to schools and youth groups to give more pre­sen­ta­tions this semester. 

Hillsdale College Director of Health and Wellness Brock Lutz was involved with CATS, the program’s original name, when he was a student at Hillsdale College. He said it’s helpful for kids in the com­munity to hear tes­ti­monies about healthy rela­tion­ships from college stu­dents. Lutz said it’s ben­e­ficial for stu­dents in the com­munity to hear from people com­mitted to being abstinent. 

“I think that is effective par­tic­u­larly when it’s high school stu­dents speaking to high school stu­dents, or here, college stu­dents speaking to high school stu­dents,” Lutz said. “There can be a ten­dency to listen to your peers a little more, knowing that there are actually other young people walking this out.” 

Lutz said he thinks it’s great that REALL is back and hopes that people can use the program to overcome their own mis­takes and help other young adults. 

“I think it’s infi­nitely important for the message of absti­nence until mar­riage to be some­thing that stu­dents con­stantly have before them,” Lutz said. “It’s morally, emo­tionally, and rela­tionally the best way to walk through dating rela­tion­ships and mar­riage. It’s important for us as a college culture to be talking about these things.” 

Berryhill said that she and DeBaker attended a training program about edu­cating young adults about sexual activity and rela­tion­ships through Willing to Wait, an orga­ni­zation out of Grand Rapids that has created a cur­riculum for schools to teach stu­dents about sexual risk avoidance and the ben­efits of abstinence. 

Berryhill added that the program focused on encour­aging absti­nence from a secular, rather than a faith-based per­spective, which she thought would be helpful for speaking at public schools in the area. The REALL Team, similar to Willing to Wait, empha­sizes the need to form rela­tion­ships based on mutual respect for indi­viduals and their bodies. 

“It was actually really cool to hear about these issues from a more secular per­spective,” Berryhill said. “Def­i­nitely at Hillsdale, it’s a lot easier for us to go to talk to youth groups and deliver that message through a Christian setting.”

After attending Willing to Wait, Sophia said she is now more com­fortable and con­fident pre­senting to stu­dents in public schools because she can use health-based facts about STDs and con­tra­cep­tives to promote absti­nence and healthy sexual relationships. 

“We can deliver a message that doesn’t fall on deaf ears by bringing the teens into the con­ver­sation and seeing it from another side that they haven’t seen before,” Berryhill said. “I think it’s easy to make that asso­ci­ation of: ‘Oh, it’s just Christian the­ology being shoved down my throat,’ but I think that was really cool to see these issues from a more edu­ca­tional standpoint.” 

Berryhill said she hopes more people will con­sider joining the REALL Team this semester, as it pre­pares to deliver more pre­sen­ta­tions to local young adults. Beginning in Feb­ruary, the REALL Team will meet on Tuesday nights at 7 p.m. in the Formal Lounge. 

In the long-run, Berryhill said she hopes the REALL Team will con­tinue after she grad­uates and have a more con­sistent presence in the com­munity, so people can reach out to the program and rec­ognize what it does. She also looks forward to more speaking oppor­tu­nities in local schools. 

“Hope­fully, it’ll be more well-known in the com­munity as well as on campus,” Berryhill said.