In the spirit of the holidays, Room One is organizing a book drive for Juvenile Detention. We know that youth who are incarcerated at Juvenile Detention spend a lot of time alone in their cells reading and a new collection of books in their library would make a big difference in their daily life . If you have a book (only soft cover please) that made an impact on you when you were a teen, please drop it by Room One.
It’s been a busy fall for our Okanogan Healthy Youth staff, to say the least! This year we’ve partnered with five county school districts: Methow Valley, Pateros, Paschal Sherman Indian School, Bridgeport and Brewster to build comprehensive sexual health education programs provento reduce teen pregnancy. In September, staff held a full day training for classroom teachers implementing the curriculum and have spent the fall traveling around the county to teach in classrooms and support teachers and administration create sustainable, responsive programs. Here’s just a few of the many reflections we’ve heard from students:
"Sex ed taught me good choices that I can make in life."
“"My teacher showed us ways to say ‘no’ to things we don't want."
"I learned to that it's important to have knowledge of contraception when you have sex."
Our Youth Leadership Council are using their voice, and we are listening. Teens said loud and clear, confidentiality is a serious barrier to accessing reproductive health care in Okanogan County and national reports are reinforcing their message: “one in five 15-17 year-olds would not seek sexual and reproductive health care because of concerns their parents may find out.” In Okanogan County, with limited health care options serving small communities and no dedicated family planning clinic, teens face an uphill battle to confidentiality. While many teens have told us about getting great reproductive health services at local clinics, some teens have reported reminder phone calls going to their family’s voicemail, providers turning youth away unless they have a parent present, and front desk staff who don’t know about confidential billing options.
And we are responding. In partnership with local clinics and our Youth Leadership Council, Room One created a Know Your Rights card designed to help youth access reproductive health care. The fold out cards have information on a youth’s right to confidential health care, free and low-cost billing options, tips for talking to a provider, choosing the right form of birth control and more. Paired with increased training for clinic staff, the Know Your Rights card will help youth be bold advocates for their own health -- all a part of reducing Okanogan County’s high rate of teen pregnancy. Look for the cards at your local clinic, share them with teens you know!
We are two years into a five year grant for teen pregnancy prevention in Okanogan County and our progress is powerful and exciting. Last year we partnered with three Okanogan County school districts including Pateros, Paschal Sherman and Methow Valley as well as Juvenile Detention to teach and integrate comprehensive sexual health education that is shown to reduce teen pregnancies.
One of our partners, Barb Quintasket, Science Teacher at Paschal Sherman Indian School, recently wrote us:
"The partnership with Room One has been built on total trust and it has been very beneficial for our school. In my classroom it was beneficial in two different ways; the first result I saw from this program was the students gaining access to the information that they need to make healthy choices. The other result from this program has been an outcome that I didn’t anticipate. Because of the trust that was built during the program, I can bring up anything and the kids can bring up anything now. There has been a door of communication that has opened because of these classes. Now students feel safe coming to me with questions or support and nothing feels awkward to talk about. I see this as one of the most beneficial things that has happened in our school in a long time.”
Programs like ours have fueled a rapid decline in teen pregnancy rates, yet Tom Price, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has unilaterally ended the entire $210 million dollar program effective July 2018. Room One is doing our part to ensure our elected officials know what this funding means for rural communities like Okanogan, where 1 in 20 girls becomes a mother while in her teens. Click here to take action and advocate for this critical community-centered program.
Room One will continue to work with our partners across the county to prioritize strategies that will further reduce teen pregnancies. We are exploring funding streams and partnerships to help us maintain and sustain this vital movement. We are committed to ensuring all Okanogan youth have the knowledge and resources they need to prevent pregnancy, maintain reproductive health and be in control of their own future.
If we were in the business of passing out grades, we’d give our community an “A+” for supporting school-based programs that build healthier futures for our youth.
For the last eight years, Room One has partnered with the Methow Valley School District to get upstream of significant social issues like domestic violence and teen pregnancy and provide students with the knowledge and skills they need for lifelong sexual health. According to the World Health Organization, sexual health is defined by safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.
Because of our community's vision and support, our Methow Valley programs are now serving as a model across Okanogan County and beyond. As we start the 2016-2017 school year, here is a snapshot of last year's accomplishments:
- Taught 60+ sexual health education classes in 7th-12th grades
- Trained 4th-6th grade teachers to provide new up-to-date sexual health education
- Measured leaps in knowledge through year-end evaluations: students consistently identify qualities of healthy relationships and how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections
- Supported a student-led "Consent Week" to reduce sexual assault and build a culture of consent
8th grade students who participate in classes continue to teach us about the value of this work:
“(I appreciate) talking about what healthy relationships actually are.”
“I think that being informed helped us be more aware of the importance of communication and protection”
“It was just really good information about life.”
“It was great talking about wanting a future that
I can decide for myself.”
Room One has provided Girls Groups in our local Methow Valley school for six years. In August, we took a familiar program into new territory by establishing a weekly Girls Group in the Okanogan Juvenile Detention Hall.
Studies show that nearly all girls in detention have histories of trauma. We know that girls are disproportionately affected by violence, abuse, and poverty, and as a community we need to invest in safe spaces for girls to connect. We also know that by addressing the whole girl, and providing a safe, confidential space for girls to share their struggles, build community, and strengthen the skills they need to be resilient, these same girls can become empowered custodians of their own lives.
Each week, Room One facilitators meet the girls in the rec room of Detention Hall. The girls clearly love this hour spent out of their cells, talking through past experiences, learning new ways to communicate, building healthy connections, and journaling about their lives. Each week, we learn too. We learn about the meaning of resilience, the power of relationships, and the work we still have to do to ensure all people have an opportunity to thrive, down to the last girl.
Alabama has the highest teen birth rate in the United States, at 1 birth per 25 teen girls. Washington State has one of the lowest teen birth rates in the nation, yet in Okanogan County, our teen birth rate is higher than rates in the state of Alabama: 1 in 20 girls in our county will become a parent before she reaches adulthood.
Okanogan Healthy Youth, a program of Room One, is working to move the needle on teen pregnancy.
Recognizing the importance of engaging youth as leaders in this movement, we convened a Youth Leadership Council (YLC) in 2016. In April, after recruitment and interviews, seven diverse young people from across Okanogan County were selected to serve on the YLC. This dynamic group of youth, ages 14-18, meet monthly and work to engage their peers and communities in activism around our county’s high rate of teen pregnancy. They also serve as advisors to the OK Healthy Youth Initiative, ensuring that our strategies will meet the real needs of youth and prevent unintended pregnancy.
This year they are working to increase access to contraception through social media and peer education, and by building the capacity of health clinics to provide youth-friendly services.
We are so excited to be learning from these smart and insightful teens! Their personal experiences, wisdom, and strength bring critical community leadership to the movement to end teen pregnancy that is OK Healthy Youth.
Awareness of sexual assault and its reverberating impacts is growing across the country, and among students, staff and partners of the Methow Valley School District. This fall, students, administrators, mental health providers, parents, and Room One staff participated in the formation of a school Sexual Assault Task Force. The Task Force aims to deepen our school community's understanding of how sexual assault impacts students and make policy, procedure, prevention, student learning and staff development recommendations.
A group of student seniors and other members of the Task Force are currently planning a“Consent Week” for the end of April. This series of assemblies, activities and classroom discussions aims to create a “culture of consent” and decrease incidences of sexual harassment and assault amongst Liberty Bell students.
When a student is sexually assaulted, many lives are forever changed. A student’s sense of self can change as they process the trauma and its aftermath, school attendance may be interrupted or classes adjusted all impacting a student’s sense of stability and sometimes their future choices. Friendships are tested, parents experience shock, anger, and grief, and the entire school community may feel less safe. By teaching students and adults how to prevent sexual assault and what consent looks, feels and sounds like, we are building relationships based on communication, trust and equity, a strong foundation for lifelong health
In 2004, a Stanwood, Washington teen lost her life as a result of dating violence. Although this teen reached out to many who might have helped her change course, they didn’t recognize the signs of violence or just didn’t know how to respond. Unfortunately, this story is far from an isolated event. Teen dating violence in our state is common: a study found that 20% of 13-14 year olds say their friends are victims of dating violence. Additionally, only half of teens report they recognize the signs of a dangerous relationship.
Taking a stand against teen dating violence, WSCADV created a scenario-based training called In Their Shoes designed to help participants learn what dating is like for today’s teens, providing a window into unhealthy teen relationships. Participants become teen characters, make choices about their relationships and watch the consequences unfold.
In Their Shoes, the Methow Valley Way
This past month, Room One facilitated two sessions of In Their Shoes, one with a group of teens and one with a group of adult community members. Maureen Collins, Client Advocate, said, “the training is effective because the stories are true, and participants are empowered to make decisions from the perspective of the teen…you gain a real understanding of what teens are faced with, and see opportunities where adults or others could have made a difference.”
Kelleigh McMillan, Room One Sexual Health Educator, ran the training with a group of teens and found it to be a useful tool to “empower teens to stand up for their friends, to know when to ask questions and to reach out if they see signs of trouble.” After the exercise, over 50% of the teens reported a better understanding of how to recognize an unhealthy relationship and how to safely intervene.
Trainings such as these are part of a community-level strategy to prevent violence. We will continue to provide and expand trainings to include school teachers, law enforcement and wider audiences of teens. As summed up by Kelleigh, “the more awareness our community collectively has of issues such as depression, suicide, dating violence and self-harming behaviors, the more teens we will catch in our safety net. We have to be on the lookout and the only way we can is to know what to look for.”
We believe our neighbors have the inherent strength and ability to create powerful self and community change. As we invest in resources to improve community health, we must include investments that build leadership of those most affected by domestic violence and other pervasive issues. We know that by listening to and trumpeting our neighbors’ voices we will gain collective wisdom, deeper knowledge of these issues and the opportunity to grow more leaders across the Methow Valley.
Engaging young leaders in the Methow Valley
Now in its fourth year, the Jr. and Sr. High School Girls Group participants are mighty. Through the weekly groups, these young women have a stronger sense of their own power and have brought their growing understanding of caring community, healthy relationships, gender, and positive connection to their larger school community:
“I think it’s definitely helped me – it’s really empowering to have a group to talk to and then you get to utilize that same power when talking to people outside of Girls Group.”
This year the Jr. High Girls Group decided to facilitate a group for 6th grade girls. The goal was to demonstrate to the next cohort how Girls Group helped strengthen their voices for change. When united, these voices influenced the school dress code, supported a member in reporting sexual assault, and held the school community accountable for the safety and well-being of young women.
On February 5, Family Health Centers (FHC) opened a new dental clinic in Twisp. With Room One board member and dentist Teresa Castner at the helm, the clinic is providing services to a segment of our community historically underserved: the uninsured or underinsured.
In the 2012 Room One community needs assessment, Methow Valley residents identified an overall void in local affordable and accessible health services, naming dental care for our low-income neighbors as a clear priority. Armed with this information, Teresa was motivated to not only bring community awareness to this concern, but to do something about it.
Slipping Through the Cracks
Without access to dental care, disparities in oral health are growing at an alarming rate. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that poor oral health is directly related to an individual’s ability to obtain and keep dental insurance: low-income children are twice as likely to experience tooth decay as children of higher income (CDC, 2013).
While advocating to close this access gap, Teresa found a viable and practiced partner: Family Health Centers (FHC). The FHC model provides health care services for all Okanogan County residents regardless of their ability to pay. By offering a sliding scale and accepting Medicare and Medicaid, FHC prioritizes vulnerable populations including children, the elderly and disabled.
Teresa describes the importance of FHC’s role in serving these populations: “80% of Medicaid-insured adults are not able to access care because there aren’t providers who accept Medicaid for payment.” And dental coverage rates are even worse: Medicaid reimbursement rates offered for dental services are so minimal it is often unaffordable for private practitioners to serve these patients—especially for practitioners in small rural communities.
Oral Health – Why Should I Care?
So why does oral health matter? Teresa describes the mouth as a “gateway to the body:” poor oral health is now being connected to elevated risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies have also connected oral health with education outcomes: children with oral health problems are more likely to have problems at school, miss significant time in class, and less likely to do all homework, compared to those without oral health problems (CDC, 2013). Teresa reports that FHC has already made a “big difference” in health among an entire generation of Okanogan children by improving access to care.
With the phones ringing off the hook, the new dental clinic is off to a booming start. Yet, Teresa doesn’t plan to stop here, “I have so many ideas!” Teresa hopes to expand the clinic’s ability to identify and serve more community members who have “slipped through the cracks” holding the ideal “we all need dental care” close to her heart.
Room One is thrilled to have FHC meeting this important need and to continue to support access to oral health care for all.
After 40 years of service, the non-profit Okanogan Family Planning closed its doors this winter. With this closure, many Okanogan county residents were left unserved by affordable, accessible family planning resources, and the Room One-based Twisp Family Planning Clinic became their only local alternative option. The Okanogan Clinic frequently served those who do not qualify for Medicaid or similar benefits because of their documentation status, many of whom have limited English language abilities. Now, these residents of Brewster, Bridgeport and Tonasket must drive all the way to Twisp or Chelan to access family planning services—where a State funding source, Ciudese, offers them sliding scale fee.
Open one day a week, the Twisp clinic has seen a significant change in demand for services since the Okanogan office closure. Lori Valentine, a Room One Client Advocate and former receptionist at the Twisp Clinic, noted that previous Okanogan clients are establishing care here to continue to access reliable and long-term forms of birth control and other critical health services like cancer screenings. Reflecting Room One’s one-stop shop model, new clients always have the opportunity to connect with other Room One programs and resources.
Yet, the need for accessible family planning services throughout the county is still a priority. Our clinic’s sponsor, Family Planning of North Central Washington, plans to open an Omak-based clinic to provide local services this spring.
With your support, Room One remains dedicated to providing and advocating for essential family planning services for all county residents.
Most of us understand the importance of talking with teens about self-esteem, positive body image, good self-care, respect for others, and caring for family and friends (Healthy Youth Act, 2012). For young folks in our rural community, fostering an open dialogue about the complex issues of sex and health is critical.