Chaz, now 20, participated in PPWP's Education programs when he was in middle school. A successful and confident young man, Chaz offered to share his experience with the Peer Helper program as an example of its effectiveness for students across western PA.
Beginning in 6th grade, Chaz entered the Peer Helper program after an opt-in presentation was given by a PPWP educator at his school. As he understood it, the program was designed to create an environment in which he would be capable of helping his peers through guidance and suggestions with problems that are quite common in their age group. After signing up for what would be their first ever job as PPWP peer helpers, Chaz and 13 of his peers would meet weekly to receive trainings on topics such as depression, adolescent bullying, different types of abuse, trust and relationships. These trainings served as important tools for these young people and their peers, as research shows that teens are more likely to turn to their friends for information on these extremely sensitive subjects.
Their training intensified in 7th grade with more hands-on activities, including role playing and more in-depth analysis of the topics that were covered the previous year. Students were also taught more about PPWP's invaluable services. It was in this year that Chaz's fellow students began approaching him with questions about their personal issues because they knew of his involvement in the program.
8th grade made a huge impact on Chaz as a partcipant of the "Baby Think It Over" (BTIO) program, which provided each student with an infant simulator. The lifelike Baby Think It Over doll is twenty inches in length and weighs seven to eight pounds. The authentic look and feel is complemented by its sound. An internal computer simulates an infant crying at realistic, random intervals of fifteen minutes to six hours, 24 hours a day. Baby Think It Over will cry if it needs to be fed or comforted or if it is placed in an improper position. The teen "parent" wears a nontransferable key necessary for "feeding" the infant. When the doll cries, the key is inserted as the baby is held to stop it from crying.
This experience proved invaluable for Chaz and his peers and he notes that, "each student soon realized after receiving their simulator that parenting was much more difficult than they had previously thought." He believes that he and his male counterparts got an extra awakening as to a father's child-bearing resposnibilities. They had each only thought of the mother as the caretaker, but gained a huge respect for a father's role in a child's life. As Chaz explains, "Generally young people are so much less aware of the consequences of their actions. It truly was an eye-opening experience."
Chaz's professional relationship with PPWP ended after 8th grade, but the experience still touches his life today. As a high school student, Chaz presented his graduation project about Planned Parenthood because, in his words, "I realized the important impact that Planned Parenthood has on so many lives." Throughout the course of his project, he interviewed staff members about their specific job duties, did extensive research on family planning practices, and volunteered with our Marketing Department, assisting with our downtown display window design and installment. He continued to serve as a role model to his fellow students and friends for the work he did with the program. Not only was he respected for having a job in 6th grade, but his reputation as a trustworthy source of advice continued. He still receives phone calls from middle school friends asking for information that they claim they would be too uncomfortable to seek elsewhere. Since active listening was a huge part of his training, Chaz stands out as a respected mentor and confidant within his circles.
When asked how his life would have been different had he not undergone the training, he responds, "It would definitely be different. There's a chance that I could have a kid by now or some other consequece from unprotected sex, because I don't know if I would have known better. I was taught to respect and admire individuality, to think outside of the box, and that it was okay to be different. I also learned a lot about myself, my potential, and developing my leadership skills. I learned to talk openly, but more importantly listen, and that being given the ability to share knowledge with other people is one of the greatest gifts possible. I credit my Peer Helper training as a life changing and enriching experience."