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Saturday, March 24th, 2007

Program helps area teens count the costs before sexual activity

By Shelley Grieshop
Teens think about it, talk about it, watch shows and movies about it all the time. But when they cross the line and have unsafe sex, their world changes - often not for the better.
That's the message abstinence coordinators Amy Miller and Miles Nugent of OUR Home Family Resource Center in Celina are spreading to youths across the Grand Lake area.
"As a mom of a teenager, it's an issue that needs addressing," Miller said.
A recent community assessment survey revealed that teenage sexual activity ranked high on the list of parental concerns, right behind underage and binge drinking and drug issues.
OUR Home, through Mercer County Job and Family Services, received a state wellness grant for $50,000 to start an abstinence awareness campaign in the county. As an example of the work being done through the funds, Miller and Nugent gave a presentation Friday to seventh- to 10th-graders in St. Henry and are scheduled for similar visits at other schools this year.
The pair discusses four lessons they believe teenagers need to consider before they're tempted to explore their sexuality: physical cost, such as sexually-transmitted diseases and teen pregnancies; emotional distress; spirituality, taking a good luck at their own heart and soul and their religious beliefs; and image protection and relationships.
Nugent said they've found junior high students to be much more vocal than high schoolers.
"They want to prove their cool and aren't afraid to ask questions," he said of the younger teens. "The older ones, you have to earn their trust."
Nugent said he knows teaching abstinence is more than telling kids "don't do it."
"If I tell them not to do it and I don't give them something else to focus on, they're not going to listen," Nugent said.
Getting the message across involves letting them know everybody has "those" feelings, especially teens, he said.
"We have to show them the bigger picture," he added.
Miller agrees.
"We want to give them the tools to show them what to do with their sexual tension, how to handle it in other ways than sex," she said.
Miller said the duo doesn't stand behind a podium and preach or read notes off cue cards. They've borrowed their "Straight Talk" routine from national abstinence speaker Pam Stenzel, who visited several area schools last year.
Miller said she and Nugent often walk among the students, sit on the floor with them in smaller groups and generally work at breaking the ice. The goal is to help youths feel comfortable enough to ask whatever questions they need answered.
Nugent said teen relationships tend to develop fast and can quickly become physical.
"Physical touch is a good thing, but they have to know how far they can safely take it," he said.
Teaching consequences, the importance of self-esteem and promoting leadership qualities all are part of the lesson, they said.
The pair are available to give their classes to groups of all kinds, including churches, civic organizations and schools. Anyone interested can call OUR Home at 419-586-4663.
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