It’s 5 a.m. I am sitting on our lanai in the dark — jet lag is still affecting my rhythm. The beautiful city lights of Honolulu twinkle all around me. This moment is soul-soothing, inspiring, reflective.
I had been reflecting on an interesting conversation I enjoyed yesterday with a remarkable woman. Judith Clark, the Executive Director of the Hawaii Youth Services Network, has dedicated her career to improving the lives of young people not just in Hawaii, but also in faraway lands – way beyond the Hawaiian shores.
Judith has fought for comprehensive sexual health programming within the Hawaiian community. She has developed public policy and advocated for youth to ensure they have programs that will improve their access to health care and services. She oversees many programs that serve the young people in the enchanting state of Hawaii.
Comprehensive sex education works.
Judith begins our conversation with the comment, “You will appreciate this!” Her eyes lit up as she explained that on the tiny island of Saipan, which is in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands – 4000 miles west of Hawaii (!) – the teen pregnancy rate has dropped significantly since 2011 – 34%. What makes this so remarkable? The comprehensive sexual health education programs were introduced to students only about 5 years ago, in 2013. Additionally, sexual assault awareness education has empowered young people to recognize and report abuse. Judith explained that her organization assists Saipan with their sexual health education efforts. This collaboration has been very successful; in fact, stakeholders from Saipan were attending a training just two floors below us.
Video is a tremendously effective teaching tool for young people. Judith and her colleagues produced a video series to enhance the education of Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander young people. She recognized that many videos previously used were antiquated and fear-based. They also featured people ice-skating and wearing parkas She wanted to develop culturally-relevant media that young people of Hawaii could relate to. Not only that, she felt that by engaging some local young people in the creative process was key to a successful effort. The actors are local students who auditioned for the roles. The behind-the-scenes assistants were also students within the community.
The result? The videos are wonderful. They address issues that are relevant to young people. The conversations and situations portrayed in the videos are relatable to the intended audience. These are real teens having real conversations about real issues. Some of these videos are hysterical, too. Like this one.
It takes a tribe to make positive change.
Judith collaborates frequently with other sexual health education gurus in the United States. I was introduced to her by Kristin Fairholm of Eyes Open Iowa in West Des Moines. Kristin and her colleagues at EOI are shining stars in sexuality education in the Midwest. Nora Gelperin of Advocates for Youth developed a curriculum that is used nationally. She also holds workshops for educators all over the country – in fact, she is due in Honolulu next month. I’ve only met Nora once, but she is a tremendous resource for educators like myself.
These three women, Judith, Kristin, and Nora – and their colleagues – are part of a small but mighty band of professionals, who constantly champion for the health of young people. They educate educators so that we can educate the public with the best programming available. They are the people that ensure your children get the best sexual health education available.
Judith said this:
In 2016, Judith was quoted in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. She stated, “One of the strongest protective factors against unplanned pregnancy is when young people have a trusted adult they can talk to.”
I just thought Judith Clark is someone you should know.