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.