Annex Youth Councils Create Community and Connection
In 2020 Annex Teen Clinic Youth Leadership and Advisory Councils moved online. As schools implemented distance learning and the regular routine of health classes were disrupted, the work of our youth councils took on new significance as spaces for learning, community, and connection amidst the pandemic.
As young people started the school year and learned new information about sexual health, they looked for ways to share health knowledge with others: “Being able to know all this information can give me the benefit on helping others and give them information about what I have learned. I loved learning about all this because there’s a lot of people out there who don’t know about this information and us who now have learned more about it and know so much now we can help others so they can be safe and take care of themselves. It’s very important for us teenagers to know all this because that way we know we can help younger kids or even adults and let them know they can always take care of themselves and not feel like they are alone in this.”
Another young person shared how important increasing access to clinical sexual health services is for teenagers, saying “My favorite part of the HIV/PREP Unit was definitely when [Annex staff] came in to talk more about HIV and PREP and what the Annex Teen Clinic does. I loved all of the participation and questions that were being asked because it really helped my understanding on how far the clinic can help teens and the many resources it provides. Hearing you guys all present about HIV and getting to recap everything we talked about really helped let it stick inside and I can’t wait to tell more people about what I learned as well… Being in a group full of people who are willing to learn and participate and are just as exited as I was to be a part of this made the whole experience a fantastic job.”
Connection to a caring community has always been important for young people, and while the mode of that connection may look a little different right now, Annex Youth Council members continue to find ways to learn, to lead, and to show care for our community.
Reflections on Annex Education Programming
by Ellen Saliares, Director of Sexuality Education
Preparing for our work in 2021 requires reflecting on 2020. Looking back, I created a word cloud with the topics from our youth programming in 2020. The word cloud reflects the 20 most common topics discussed in classrooms, small groups, and one on ones with health mentors. What do you see? What stands out to you? What I see is that the topics that have always been important since the start of the Annex 50 years ago, sexually transmitted infections and contraception, are still important. I also see that the topics that have felt like they are being requested more often are actually being talked about more often. Relationships, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression won’t surprise anyone reading this as topics that are essential for young people to have education on and support around but it feels like it is only in the past few years that our partners have frequently requested sessions on these topics. I think this is due to changes on a community level, but I also want to give credit to Annex educators who have emphasized how important it is that topics outside STI and pregnancy prevention are covered.
To say that 2020 has been a challenging year is an understatement as our work has been transformed and we have been pushed to adapt. The final thing I’ll say about this word cloud is that it confirms for me that we have been there, supporting young people and educating them on topics that we know they need. The need for sex ed and education on these deeply personal and important topics doesn’t change and will remain important in 2021.