PHE is Committed to Show Up for Trans Youth

All young people deserve to be healthy and to learn in an environment that supports their health. We stand with trans youth and organizations like the Trevor Project and GLSEN in speaking out against rescinding Title IX protections in schools for trans youth. Acceptance and safety measures for trans youth in schools are critical to their mental and physical health. Please join us to make sure that your community, your schools, and your family show up for and support trans youth.

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PHE Alumni Spotlight: Martel Okonji

Meet Martel Okonji, a California State University, Northridge alum, Okonji volunteered with Peer Health Exchange as a health educator and a co-coordinator from 2010 to 2012. Today, he is the Youth Development Coordinator for the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Learn how his service continues to contribute to his career and community.

HOW DID PHE IMPACT YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?

I learn [about] curriculum, see how curriculum is created. That really made me realize that this is something that I definitely want to do. It played a critical role in being able to develop programs and facilitate program materials. The curriculum helped me kind of see how to be a leader in program development.

Being a co-coordinator, I also empowered other volunteers to be leaders. Empowering my leadership team, like I do right now, learning how to do workshops and facilitating things, using a lot of the skills that I got from volunteering at PHE and implementing it as I do today.

It helped me to be a lot more informed and engaged in what’s actually taking place. It put me in my community, in a different scope to talk to [young people] and examine the conversations that are taking place among young folks.

The greatest thing that is it helped me develop as an individual because I wasn’t too familiar with going into settings with the identity that I hold. I’ve always carried my sexual identity on my sleeve, but not in a educational space and to have that identity and be open with it especially as a health mentor with kids asking me questions.

WHAT MEMORY STICKS OUT TO YOU?

Just going to the schools, especially when I was a co-coordinator. Being in the classroom, just engaging with teens and talking about things that need to be discussed, that are not present in our educational curriculum on a daily basis.

I remember I had one student that was like “my friend…” We know he wasn’t talking about his friend, you’re asking about yourself. “whenever you give head, should you use two condoms? I’m asking for him because I care about him.”

I wanted to answer that question effectively as possible and talk about sexual relations between two men. I had to make sure that those resources are there and also be a lot more comfortable with myself, there’s a lot of needs the community has. It forced me to put myself out there.

That’s actually is my favorite memory. That’s my greatest memory because he also cared about his friends. Clearly no one had that conversation with him for him to ask that question.

He reminded me of me when I was in school. I didn’t have anyone to ask these questions. Since we’re there to discuss health education, kids can take the opportunity to ask questions.

 

WHAT DRIVES YOU PERSONALLY TO STRIVE FOR HEALTH EQUITY?

I think what drives me the most is that there is a lack of resources. It’s what drives me to work in the field of homelessness to make sure all those resources are apparent to the young folks that I work with.

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR WORK WITH THE LA LGBT CENTER. WHAT BROUGHT YOU THERE?

[I went] through a lot of the struggles and challenges that the youth I serve go through or have went through. This is the place I kinda see myself thriving and definitely want to build here.

I get the opportunity to allow youth to see their future selves but most importantly gather skills and tools to be effective leaders for themselves as well as for their communities.

I lead an ambassadorship program that includes training, workshops and conferences that I take them to and present to them to get skills and tools to be effective in engaging the youth that are in the center as well engaging themselves to use program services to move further and forward with their lives.

That’s one of the most powerful things that I do because it also creates the drive for them to step up, engage in their communities and participate in creating programs and curriculum toward information that they’re talking about.

WHY ARE THESE RESOURCES IMPORTANT?

Everyone deserves a chance. Programs like [LA LGBT Center] ensure that and bring about healing and empowerment to give everyone a fighting chance to wake up and not feel like there’s nothing left for them.

We all deserve an opportunity to feel safe, like there’s a space for us to go to and explore those identities that empower us, places where we can educate ourselves and feel as if we can see more than just today, tomorrow, we can see next month, and we can see next year, even the the next ten years down the line.

WHAT DO SAFE SPACES MEAN FOR YOUR CONSTITUENTS? WHAT DOES ALLYSHIP MEAN FOR THE LA LGBT CENTER?

Essentially, a safe space means that we can come into a space and be ourselves.

The conversations we have won’t make people disgusted with us, the serves we use can be suited to our needs. A place to live, thrive and be happy and not feel like we have to watch our back or that someone will attack us because the conversations that we have or the identity that we express.

Allyship means supporting that and inviting a space for it. There’s a difference between an ally, advocate and activist. So an ally supports it and allows us the space. An advocate would create the space and an activist would fight to make sure there are spaces and policies that take it to the next level. An ally supports it and they see us just as equal.

I would like for everyone to become activists, to wake up everyday and fight the fight but I also understand that healing is just as important and people haven’t had the chance to heal from all the trauma. I would hope for people to be an advocate, for folks to really look at themselves as advocates by providing safe spaces for folks who have needs and asking for that. Advocate for folks, provide resources.

HOW DO YOU ENVISION HEALTH EQUITY?

Health equity is universal, if there’s ever anything wrong. If someone has any health challenges, they have access to care.

[It would be] the day that we can all be aware and make informed decisions, that means we have access to health education but also resources for the services. So health equity is education and services.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR PHE VOLUNTEERS?

Do as much as you can. It’s one of the greatest experiences that I ever had and it would be so beneficial to hone in on your professional development. It gives you the opportunity to go inside spaces and talk with your community and give them valuable information that is so so so necessary.

And really out of service and to not stop there, continue on that development and take in everything that you learned.

Save your materials and reflect on it and thinks about all the stuff that you’ve done. Really push yourself to hit every goal that you possibly can.

It’s a great resource for development and if you know a place that needs it, make that connection!

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PHE Stands With Immigrants

The current political and social climate is increasing the risk for young people’s health. Real and perceived discrimination leads to toxic stress and unhealthy behavior—from substance abuse to refusal to seek medical services. Young people who are immigrants or have other marginalized identities are particularly at risk in this moment.

We stand with all young people, especially those affected by the “Muslim ban” this past weekend. We applaud our home cities – the Bay Area, Boston, Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles – for showing their active support for immigrants as sanctuary cities. We will do our part alongside our partners to empower young people with the knowledge, skills, and resources to make healthy decisions.

Please join us in standing strongly behind the mission of PHE. Make sure schools in your community are supporting all immigrant families right now with access to mental health services, adequate English-language learner programs, and other programs. Share resources with any immigrants you might know and learn more directly from immigrant youth. Urge your community organizations and faith-based institutions to be a loving presence to all. And support organizations, PHE and so many others, that are showing up for young people every day.

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How PHE Shaped My Career

By Zoe Sakas, PHE Volunteer

Saying that Peer Health Exchange has shaped my undergraduate experience would be understating how influential this organization has been to me. I came to Fordham as a pre-med student who wanted to change the world somehow. At the time, I thought the best way to make a difference was to become a doctor. I wanted to heal those who were suffering, and to dedicate my life to improving the lives of others. I wasn’t sure of exactly how to do that, but I was very passionate about my mission nonetheless.

I joined PHE freshman year because I was looking for a way to volunteer in the Bronx community, loved working with kids, and was excited about all things health and science related. I figured it would be a fun experience and a good way to make friends. However, I didn’t really understand at the time what I was becoming a part of.

To a high school freshman, there is nothing more important,
and confusing, than the health topics PHE focuses on.

The decisions they make about their health create a ripple effect of positive and negative consequences that shape their future experiences and opportunities, and can greatly affect their ability to achieve their goals. I was forced to confront a privilege that I had not recognized before – the privilege to know how to maintain and improve my health. I have always seen health as the foundation for everything else in life. Happiness and success are much easier to attain when an individual has the resources to support their physical and mental health. Preventable health issues, like obesity, heart disease, STD’s, lung cancer, injuries from risky behavior, liver disease, and more, affect the majority of the population in the United States.

Before working with PHE, I wasn’t aware of how
dramatically social determinants can impact health.

If at 14-years-old a teenager does not know that STD’s can be transmitted by oral sex, or that alcohol use comes with long term effects, or that Pop Tarts don’t have all the nutrients you need for breakfast, then they are at a much greater risk of making decisions that they might regret in the future. Realizing how much of an impact health education can have on the futures of these teenagers has been what has drawn me to the field of public health. Before working with PHE, I wasn’t aware of how dramatically social determinants can impact health. PHE is such a great organization because it gives the students all the knowledge and resources they need to make whatever decisions they feel are best for them. It does not stigmatize certain decisions or behaviors, like teaching abstinence from sex and drugs might, but instead empowers teenagers to take their health into their own hands, which I believe every person should have the right to do. PHE supports the idea that health education should be considered a necessity rather than a privilege, a concept that when put into practice can change the lives of thousands of underprivileged teenagers.

After spending three years taking pre-med classes, I finally came to the conclusion last summer that becoming a doctor is not the right career choice for me. I am a senior now, graduating in just a few weeks, and I am more excited than I can put into words to start a masters program in public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine this coming September. PHE has brought me one step closer to achieving my goal of changing the world for the better. It has helped me realize how important it is to recognize the social determinants of health, and work to change them through influencing policy and practice, conducting research, and providing education and resources to those who need them most.

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Zoe Sakas – Essay Contest Winner

Zoe Sakas

Zoe Sakas, Fordham University, 2016

Saying that Peer Health Exchange has shaped my undergraduate experience would be understating how influential this organization has been to me. I came to Fordham as a pre-med student who wanted to change the world somehow. At the time, I thought the best way to make a difference was to become a doctor. I wanted to heal those who were suffering, and to dedicate my life to improving the lives of others. I wasn’t sure of exactly how to do that, but I was very passionate about my mission nonetheless.

I joined PHE freshman year because I was looking for a way to volunteer in the Bronx community, loved working with kids, and was excited about all things health and science related. I figured it would be a fun experience and a good way to make friends. However, I didn’t really understand at the time what I was becoming a part of. My first semester with PHE, I was assigned to teach about nutrition and physical activity. Easy, I thought. Many of the volunteers were teaching about difficult and uncomfortable subjects like sex and drugs, but nutrition and physical activity I thought would be relatively straightforward. What I encountered in the classroom, though, was not at all what I was expecting. It amazed me how many teenagers thought that Pop Tarts were a healthy breakfast choice, and that Arizona iced tea was much healthier than soda. Most students thought healthy foods like fruit and peanut butter shouldn’t be eaten often because of high levels of sugar and fat.

All of a sudden I realized how important teaching these high school students was. I felt responsible for their wellbeing and their health. By the end of the year, I taught hundreds of students how to eat well and exercise. I began to see how these seemingly simple lessons could impact a young person in such big ways. Obesity can lead to low self-esteem, which will result in a myriad of negative feelings and experiences. I talked with the students about their goals, and many of them realized how not eating well might impact their chances of accomplishing these goals. In the years following, I have taught about mental health, sex, alcohol and marijuana use. The new skills-based curriculum has allowed me to engage in meaningful conversations with the students, and I have noticed that many students really appreciate and enjoy PHE. To a high school freshman, there is nothing more important, and confusing, than the health topics PHE focuses on. The decisions they make about their health create a ripple effect of positive and negative consequences that shape their future experiences and opportunities, and can greatly affect their ability to achieve their goals.

I was forced to confront a privilege that I had not recognized before – the privilege to know how to maintain and improve my health. I have always seen health as the foundation for everything else in life. Happiness and success are much easier to attain when an individual has the resources to support their physical and mental health. Preventable health issues, like obesity, heart disease, STD’s, lung cancer, injuries from risky behavior, liver disease, and more, affect the majority of the population in the United States. Health education is a huge part of this growing problem. If at 14-years-old a teenager does not know that STD’s can be transmitted by oral sex, or that alcohol use comes with long term effects, or that Pop Tarts don’t have all the nutrients you need for breakfast, then they are at a much greater risk of making decisions that they might regret in the future.

Realizing how much of an impact health education can have on the futures of these teenagers has been what has drawn me to the field of public health. Before working with PHE, I wasn’t aware of how dramatically social determinants can impact health. PHE is such a great organization because it gives the students all the knowledge and resources they need to make whatever decisions they feel are best for them. It does not stigmatize certain decisions or behaviors, like teaching abstinence from sex and drugs might, but instead empowers teenagers to take their health into their own hands, which I believe every person should have the right to do. PHE supports the idea that health education should be considered a necessity rather than a privilege, a concept that when put into practice can change the lives of thousands of underprivileged teenagers.

After spending three years taking pre-med classes, I finally came to the conclusion last summer that becoming a doctor is not the right career choice for me. I am a senior now, graduating in just a few weeks, and I am more excited than I can put into words to start a masters program in public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine this coming September. PHE has brought me one step closer to achieving my goal of changing the world for the better. It has helped me realize how important it is to recognize the social determinants of health, and work to change them through influencing policy and practice, conducting research, and providing education and resources to those who need them most.

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PHEnomenal Five

NYC PHE Volunteers
NYC PHE Volunteers

PHEnomenal Five is a bi-weekly round-up of five articles that we thought were interesting related to young people, health education and health outcomes.

PHEnomenal Five (July 22, 2016)

1. The American Academy of Pediatricians issued a report emphasizing why comprehensive sex education is essential

2. Teen pregnancy rates have dropped over the years. Find out how television has been a key factor in decreasing rates

3. De-stigmatizing mental illness in the black community

4. Why many teenagers may not be the risk-takers we think they are

5. Advice for parents on how to avoid teen binge drinking
 

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Making Choices

Contributed by Ana, a PHE student

The author of this blog post is a student in the Peer Health Exchange program, reflecting on how participating in Peer Health Exchange has affected her choices.

Peer Health class helped me a lot.

I never ever went to 9th period because I always though it was boring, but I started going after we started having health class on Wednesday. We had a lesson on weed and how it affects us. I used to smoke weed in the morning, before coming to school, after school, in the night almost all weekend. I would learn something and forget the next day. I was going through a lot at that time and the only thing that helped me was weed because it made me forget about things that hurt me or bothered me. In that class I learned that weed affects your thinking and doing it a lot makes you slower.

I started to realize that there are many other ways to handle stuff so I stopped smoking. I started writing how I felt in a notebook, going to an adult that can help me handle my problems. My grades went up from a 65 or 55 to a 75 or 80. I was making my mother proud and that really made me happy.

I learned that in life one choice can change your life.

Interview with Ana’s Teacher, Mr. Lennon

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PHEnomenal Five

Children Raising Hands

Children Raising Hands

PHEnomenal Five is a bi-weekly round-up of five articles that we thought were interesting related to young people, health education and health outcomes.

PHEnomenal Five (July 8, 2016)

1. How one teen is using art to raise mental health awareness

2. How LA public schools are planning to close the education gap

3. Read about why schools need to address sexual consent and the impact it can have

4. Why lack of information is preventing women in developing countries from using contraceptives

5. Read about why bullies face a higher risk

Children Raising Hands

Children Raising Hands

of teen suicide

 

Posted in Uncategorized

PHEnomenal Five

Volunteer teaching students

Volunteer teaching students


PHEnomenal Five is a bi-weekly round-up of five articles that we thought were interesting related to young people, health education and health outcomes.

PHEnomenal Five (June 24, 2016)

1.A look into how one county is changing their sex education curriculum to include consent

2. A look into how young people can motivate their peers to prevent substance abuse

3. How a “Crisis Text Line” is saving teens with no one to turn to for help

4. The newest way to access birth control is via an app

5. Grammy Foundation partners with drug-free kids organization to celebrate life above the influence
 

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The Most Important Thing I Learned

Contributed by Shirley, 9th Grade

The author of this blog post is a student in the Peer Health Exchange program, reflecting on why she thinks health education is important for young people.

The most important thing I learned from Peer Health Exchange is that nobody can obligate me to do something I don’t want to do. I am my own person and I am in control of my decisions. I have used this to make a decision and stop myself from regretting a mistake that I could’ve prevented if I made the right choice. My friends were throwing a birthday party for my friend which I was invited to. They told me there would be alcohol, drinks, hookah. She gave me a couple of days to think about it and as I pondered my options I realized if I went I would seem cool but so many things could happen. I could possibly get high or intoxicated and risk getting in trouble with my parents by losing my going-out privileges, get raped or drugged. However, if I didn’t go I would be considered a loser. On the day of the party, I decided to go. I didn’t have to do anything I would regret to have fun! I went and refused any alcohol or drugs. I still danced and had a great time! I would rather be living happy knowing I wouldn’t get in trouble with my parents than live with that fear/guilt that something severe could’ve happened to me. Why would I do something that is harmful to me just to fit in? My health is much more important than popularity!

One of the biggest health issues young people face is not knowing when/who to talk to
about your problems because teenagers face predicaments such as depression, coming out to be homosexual, etc. They face these things alone and keep their feelings bottled up. But as they are exposed to resources like health education and getting to know counselors, teenagers see that the school community has resources they can confide in. Whether its pharmacists, doctors, counselor–these kids have options!

It’s extremely important for young people to receive health education so they can familiarize themselves with subjects they are afraid to talk about aloud. This can help inform them so when they are doing something they can apply what they learned from their resources in that situation.

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