Youth are a great resource for reaching out to other young people and the Youth Health Initiative Program at Family Planning Shasta County is one great example of how peer-to-peer education works. The program puts the power of an educational revolution in the hands of young people so they can change the lives of others.
About four years ago, the Youth Health Initiative started having week-long peer educator trainings for high school students on reproductive health. They covered topics like birth control methods, STD/HIV screening and prevention, and also offered information on clinic services. Since the program started, there have been three youth-oriented trainings every year.
The trainings have become wildly popular. "We actually have a waiting list of people who want to take the training," said Brianna Ellicock, Outreach Manager at Family Planning Shasta. "We try to get teens from each of the local high schools to come. We also accept recommendations from our health educator who goes out to the schools and knows the students."
After participants finish the class, they have to make a presentation in front of a panel. Once a teen takes the floor, he or she can talk about what they would say to another youth about reproductive health in a face-to face educational or counseling session.
Not surprisingly, most teens who volunteer to take the training tend to pass the test. That's a natural outcome when teens put their hearts and minds into an activity they like, where they can make a difference by helping others.
Next, they are given wallet cards with their names on them to pass out while they are doing youth outreach. Then, when a young person comes in for services and he or she turns in the referral card, the new client gets $10 and the peer educator who referred them also gets $10.
There are other incentives. Youth are given a scholarship to go through the training and they get a stipend at the end of each day they attend class. "Most people say they would do it anyway - even without the money. "They feel good about it. They feel a sense of empowerment. They want to get out there and help other teens," said Ellicock.
Ellicock herself got interested in reproductive health work by going through the training. She has gotten more involved in peer education over time and has received more advanced training on reproductive health topics. Her enthusiasm for the project inspires her motivate other youth to do the same. "We hire a couple of the youth from each training class to do work here at the clinic," said Ellicock. The peer educator program has a lot of fans. "The youth even help the clinic put on special events and movie nights at a local youth operated venue called The Space."