An Ounce of Prevention

Feb. 23-March 1,2006
An Ounce of Prevention
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Be Happy, Healthy & Holy Program to Continue for Another Year

Sharon Flanagan, Abstinence Educator with the Syracuse Diocesan Respect Life Office, hasn’t completed her mission of educating teens about abstinence. She has, however, spoken to over 1,700 Catholic youth in the diocese. The Respect Life Office has received funding for a second year from Fidelis Health Care Services for the diocesan chastity program, “Be Happy, Healthy & Holy.”

“I think it’s great that the program has been funded for another year because I hope to speak to more youth around the diocese,” said Flanagan. “I haven’t reached all the parishes yet. I’ll be giving presentations at high schools, youth programs and at confirmation classes. As the word gets out, hopefully I’ll be invited to talk to more youth.”

During the one-hour presentation, Flanagan talks with teens about such topics as the church’s teaching on the sacrament of marriage, God’s plan for sex, chastity, at risk behaviors and goal setting. “I give them an overview of these topics,” said Flanagan. “The students are very interested in learning about the emotional and physical consequences of STDs and abortion. We then talk about making decisions to practice chastity and also how to communicate that to their future boyfriend or girlfriend. We also discuss how to talk to their parents about their decision and to get their support. Additionally, we discuss group dating. They always tell me afterwards that they like the tips that I gave them, so it’s helpful.”

Flanagan provides the teens with up-to-date information on reproductive technology and same sex unions. She gets her facts from many sources. Some of them include the Center for Disease Control website, the staff at the New York State Health Department, The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the encyclical The Gospel of Life. Also covered in the presentation are the issues of natural family planning, date rape and sexual abuse. Flanagan has received a very positive response from the students she has served. At the end of every presentation, she asks the teens to complete an evaluation form, which asks them “What three things have you learned?” Flanagan said the teens consistently said they had learned the meaning of chastity. The teens also said they had learned more about STDs and abortion.

Several teens from St. John’s Parish in Liverpool heard Flanagan’s presentation last fall. Liverpool High School sophomore Pierre Watier heard the abstinence presentation in his religious education class last December. “It was an insightful presentation and it gave a lot of information on things that are relevant to me,” said Pierre. “I have changed my views on premarital sex. I wasn’t aware of the results of premarital sex before I listened to the presentation.”

“During the presentation, I ask them what kind of experiences they have had in their own lives that could lead to sexual intercourse,” said Flanagan. The teens mentioned such things as being home alone with their boyfriend, pornographic websites on the Internet and dress styles. David Murk, a sophomore at Liverpool High School, heard the presentation last September at St. John’s. “It gave me a lot to think about,” said David. “I learned about how traumatizing abortions can be.” Ed Reynolds, another sophomore at Liverpool High School, said the presentation reinforced his feelings about abstinence.

Teachers regularly invite parents to the abstinence presentations. “Sometimes they come up to me at the end of the presentation to share their thoughts and reflections and give me feedback, which has been very good,” said Flanagan. At the end of each presentation, Flanagan gives each teen a wristband with the words “Happy, Healthy & Holy” imprinted on it. “The teachers have told me the teens are still wearing the wristbands,” Flanagan said. “They love the wristbands. The wristband reminds them of what we talked about.” Flanagan has a number of goals she would like to accomplish this year. “One of my goals is to include a parent/team component in the program,” Flanagan said. “We know the importance of having the parents involved. I am gathering information related to teen issues and the church’s teaching on some of the topics that I cover to put in a package for parents. That will be helpful to them. The teachers have told me that after the presentation, the teens go home and talk to their parents about what they have learned.”

Flanagan also plans to provide all the diocesan resource centers with new chastity and abortion videos. Also in the works is a mother-daughter tea, which will be co-hosted by the Respect Life Office in the fall, with diocesan Fertility Care Specialist Joan Nolan in attendance. Flanagan also plans to staff a booth at a youth rally, which will be held at St. Matthew’s Church in East Syracuse on March 4. She plans to talk with youth ministers and teens about the program at the youth rally. April 22, Flanagan will be participating in a formation for ministry workshop. The topic will be “Raising Abstinent Teens.” The purpose of the workshop is to come up with some ways of spreading the message of abstinence throughout he diocese.

Flanagan will also be developing a peer mentoring program for this summer. “We are going to train 16 teens from the Christian Leadership Institute to act as peer mentors so they can spread the word about abstinence to their friends,” Flanagan said. “I’m very excited about it.”

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