Standing your ground: YWCA program helps teens navigate sexual coming-of-age

It’s hard to save teenagers from themselves; there’s only so much even the most conscientious parents can do once all that sexually charged energy is out the door for the day or evening. When adolescents are left to their own devices, it looks like parental options are to wring their hands, keep the porch light on, and hope for the best.

Few mishaps can more traumatically sideline a girl’s life than when she learns she is pregnant and will be a mother before she’s finished becoming a woman. It can stop a boy dead in his tracks when he discovers he’s about to be a dad. These circumstances happen all the time.

[l-r] Luz Maria Frias, Nicole Awad, Yusuf Abdullah, Mark Campbell Dwight Hobbes/MSR News

There is help available. The Contact Plus program at YWCA Minneapolis enrolls youngsters through school and prepares them to prevent the worst.

Mark Campbell, Contact Plus coordinator and a former program participant in his youth, now helps guide another generation through this difficult terrain. “What we do at Contact Plus is build foundations of a strong relationship and [show youth] how to be allies for each other.

“We provide healthy information around sexuality so that young people [understand] how they want to move, and can have constructive conversations around sexual health. The goal of our program isn’t to tell them what to do [but] to lay out all the information from abstinence to birth control to decision-making in terms of pregnancy.

“The real goal is to understand that there are so many things you can be in front of [to] help you be a better parent one day when you choose to be a parent. We provide information so young people are knowledgeable.”

Knowledge, as it’s said, is power. In this instance, the power is for young people to obtain the knowledge to help themselves. Parenthood, after all, should be a carefully considered choice, not an unexpected pitfall. Campbell, again, underscored, “It’s really about building those foundations for young men and young women.”

That foundation entails relating to one another more as individuals than as sex objects, which is a prevalent pastime among adolescents since time immemorial. The advent of today’s music videos and resultant flesh-baring fashions for females greatly heighten the pursuit. Even girls who dress and behave sensibly find themselves pressed for sex whether they’re interested or not.

Nicole “Nikki” Awad, a Patrick Henry High School junior, is one such young woman who finds herself fending off male students trying to talk holes in her clothes. “I’m very consistent and hard in my ‘no,’ but I do feel a lot of pressure not only from randy boys.” More than a few of those boys finally figure out Nikki’s hard “no” does not mean “try harder.” They walk away with a sour-grapes complaint: “You ain’t all that, anyway.”

Few things are as powerful as the force of peers, including other females who say “yes.” How does Nikki feel in the face of that pressure?

“Knowing there are so many other girls who do give in to pressure, it makes me feel strong. That motivates me to stand my ground and not become like [them].” She can withstand being teased by her girlfriends as a prude.

Nikki has learned by example what can happen to girls who give in. “In my family, all the women in my life — as I’ve grown up — that’s probably my biggest motivation. It [unplanned pregnancies] made their lives a lot more complicated than they needed.”

A sad but all too common story is that of a pregnant young woman of color who winds up leaving school and on government assistance. She is stereotyped and stigmatized as an up-and-coming welfare queen who sits around the house with a very grim future of being up to her hips with kids at taxpayer expense.

YWCA Minneapolis President-CEO Luz Maria Frias said of this stereotype, “Not only are more White women receiving welfare, but when it comes to portraying the negative image of receiving public assistance, White women are not featured. It’s the Black woman.”

As revered sage Dick Gregory’s timeless recording The Light Side, The Dark Side commented on the supposed immorality of females of color, “Because White women have two percent illegitimate babies and my Black sisters have more, your White sister can bathe in Channel No. 5 and she is still Mrs. So-and-So. Let me tell you something: We ever get our hands on you White folk’s abortion credit cards, we will show you how to knock a rate down, too, baby.” The point being that historically, the worst mistake Black, Latina and, for that matter, more than a few White females can make is not being able to afford terminating an unwanted pregnancy.

Yusuf Abdullah, also at Patrick Henry High and now in his sophomore year, reflects, “I would take ‘no’ for an answer. But I see other people in my school, they will keep trying to push and get to that person.”

He, too, withstands the peer pressure of other fellas egging him on to turn a “no” into a “yes.” Abdullah is accused of being soft, but “I kind of let it go past me.”

In 2015-2016, Contact Plus served more than 200 students, and 100 percent of the participants reported not becoming pregnant or fathering a child during the 10-month program. The report also covers ground on sexually transmitted infections and disease.

Suffice to say, this is an invaluable source of support for teens to sidestep seriously life-impacting problems. Enrollment is enlisted through schools.


For more information about Contact Plus, contact Mark Campbell at 612 215-4362,

Dwight Hobbes welcomes readers’ responses to P.O. Box 50357, Minneapolis, MN 55403

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