By: Katie Sobiech
We, meaning you and I, create the culture we live in. We play a part in the puzzle, or big picture, and our influence has either a positive, or negative, impact on the world around us.
“We’re all affected by our culture, but it works the other way too. We can affect our culture, so ultimately, we are the culture. We decide what it’s going to be like,” Cheryl Biddle, Founder of Alliance for Healthy Youth, said.
Biddle takes teens, part of the C.A.T.S. (Concerned about Teen Success) program, into Middle and High Schools to educate their peers on important topics relating to the issues they face.
Their purpose is to empower, encourage and educate youth to make and keep healthy lifestyle choices. They equip them with the knowledge and skills to make decisions and practice behaviors that enhance health and wellness.
RSVP, their evidence-based middle school prevention curriculum, includes lesson plans to help students correlate the risks of alcohol/drug use and premarital sexual activity.
Looking into the Future
“I think about the future a lot because what these teens do now is going to make a dramatic difference in their own lives, and a dramatic difference in our culture. We’ve got to have a voice – a voice of reason,” Biddle said.
The pressures on teens today are unlike anything most have ever seen before. Daily they are bombarded with thoughts and images on the television, in music, and from friends that tell them who they should be. Unfortunately, many of these are negative influences.
“Some children have never heard that it’s okay not to be sexually involved. They just say, ‘Well that must be the way it is’, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” Biddle said.
Her message to teens is, “You chart the course for your own future and the future of your generation.”
The Power of Prevention
Once a volunteer at Akron Pregnancy Services, a safe haven for pregnant teens considering abortion and/or not having the resources to care for their babies, Biddle realized that the prevention piece seemed to be missing in the community.
She thought ‘How can we get to them before some of the problems start?’
She says no one was really focused on talking to teens about abstinence at the time.
Therefore, she founded the program that exists today.
The C.A.T.S. program started in 1987 with 11 students from Ohio Valley Christian Academy.
“Our community wants these programs,” she said.
It’s become so popular that they now train people across the country to replicate the program.
Relating to Teens
“Just hearing someone who is their age, understanding what they’re going through and saying ‘You don’t have to do it’ (is important),” Sheila Fisher, mother of one of the C.A.T.S. said.
“And it’s not just about abstinence from sex, its drugs and alcohol, and it teaches them self-esteem. When a child can express themselves in their own words and own way it gives them that esteem that they need in order to just say ‘no’,” she continued.
“I’m very proud of them, not just my daughter, but all the kids that do that. I think it takes a lot of courage,” Fisher said.
C.A.T.S Under Attack
Because C.A.T.S has had such positive results, it’s gotten even greater recognition. But that hasn’t necessarily been a good thing.
“This school year has been a very difficult one,” Biddle shared, “We have taught 24,000 kids every year until this year. This year we really took a hit and had a grant that was zeroed out.”
“There are a lot of people that don’t agree with the message that we have. There are other entities, a whole world philosophy or different world view that believes contraceptives and safer sex is going to solve the problems. Those people were very, very concerned that groups like ours across the country were receiving funding and they made it their job to end the funding, and they did,” Biddle shared.
Major cut-backs in their program funding have caused them to have to let go of staff, office-space, and change parts of the programming, reaching less of the youth.
“They hit us with a club. And not just our agency, but across the country,” Biddle said.
“Their goal is that we go away,” she continued.
C.A.T.S. five-day programs, after-school and summer programs have all been stopped.
Much research has been done, proving that Alliance for Healthy Youth is an evidence-based effective program.
Biddle believes that is one of the reasons why they’ve been under such an attack.
“If someone can prove that programs that teach kids to abstain work, then what’s going to happen to all of the programs that teach contraceptive and safer sex, and take condoms right into the classrooms? In my opinion, that’s one of the main reasons why folks with a different world view want to bring an end to what we do,” Biddle explained.
But, they are still going strong and making a difference in lives, and will continue to fight to keep their programs alive.
“It is a real joy in my life,” said Biddle when speaking of the program.
Be a Part of This!
There are currently 40 kids in the C.A.T.S. program, “And they’re just fabulous,” Biddle smiled.
She hopes that the group will continue to grow, expanding their diverse group of teens.
“If people are living the lifestyle that the programs teach, any high school person is eligible to be in the program,” she said.
If you don’t have transportation, they will provide it.
Volunteers are needed, as well as Board Members.
C.A.T.S. has been reaching youth for over 20 years. Biddle thanks those who’ve helped, such as Beth Ann Rasey, who has been coordinating the program for the last 4 years, for helping make it all happen. And of course, she couldn’t have done it without the teens themselves.
For more information on this please visit http://www.all4youth.org or call 330.864.1359