By MARY RAINWATER
For five years, Living Alternatives, a Palestine non-profit organization committed to families facing an unplanned pregnancy, has taught abstinence education classes at Elkhart Middle School to students in grades 6-10.
The organization also has been teaching the classes to Slocum Junior High students in grades 6-8 for the past two years. And for the first time this year, Living Alternatives is currently teaching Neches Junior High School students in grades 6-8 and will teach Grapeland Junior High School students in grades 6-8 in May.
“We just purchased new abstinence education curriculum called ‘Choosing the Best,’ which motivates students to make healthier choices, such as if they abstain they are choosing freedom — freedom to give themselves to someone forever and to attain goals,” Living Alternatives Executive Director Amber Hyatt said during an interview last week. “In many ways abstaining helps them pursue their future goals and it’s the only way to give them 100 percent protection from STDs.”
Through the curriculum, they provide information about common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), showing the students statistics about how prevalent it can be. In fact, the top eight STDs can produce no signs upon their onset.
“In many cases having premarital sex can lead to regrets that cause worry and depression because of the emotional consequences, regrets that it didn’t work out, shame they feel about their parents finding out and worrying whether they are going to get pregnant or a STD,” Hyatt said. “This even leads to higher suicide rates, five times higher for girls and eight times higher for boys.
Other statistics show teens who have premarital sex have higher suicide rates due to the emotional consequences.
“We want them to make a commitment such as this based on love, not physical attraction and raging hormones.”
Every lesson they teach the students includes optional parental involvement homework.
“We really encourage parents to have an open door policy to talk to their child — be ready and willing to listen,” Hyatt said.
A parent meeting is held before the beginning of the program at each school, allowing parents to see the curriculum and answering questions and concerns.
As a thank you for teaching the course in their school this year, Elkhart Middle School Student Council and EMS Honors Society organized a diaper shower for Living Alternatives.
“They collected more than 100 packages of diapers, some of them cases of diapers,” Hyatt said. “They also donated $180 they made from cupcake sales. We just want to let the community know how much support they put forth. We are going to purchase a bed and changing table with that money.”
About Living Alternatives
Living Alternatives provides several services to the community including free pregnancy classes and parental classes called Building Blocks.
“They can earn credits out of our baby store for strollers, car seats, diapers, clothing and other baby items,” Hyatt said. “You earn while you learn.”
Living Alternatives also offers free pregnancy tests; proof of pregnancy (needed for Medicaid benefits); and outside referrals for housing, WIC, food stamps, Medicaid and GED classes.
Currently, the non-profit pregnancy help center is serving 40 to 50 clients a week on average.
“We had 135 clients in the month of January. We’ve had a steady climb and are experiencing tremendous growth,” Hyatt said. “Our clients range in age from 13 to 60 but on average are in the 16- to 24-year-old range.
Living Alternatives talks to each girl or young woman about looking at the big picture when thinking about the pregnancy.
“We encourage them to set goals for their life,” Hyatt said. “Actions today will affect your future.”
Living Alternatives will hold a banquet and style show fund-raiser at noon April 20 at the Palestine Civic Center.
For more information, visit Living Alternatives at 1002 S. Magnolia St. (located next to the WIC and Texas Department of State Services offices on Brazos Street) or call 903-723-9944. After hours, a crisis hotline will pick up the phone call or the person calling can leave a message. For more details, visit www.pregnancypalestine.com.
Anyone interested in volunteering to teach abstinence education classes can call the number listed above.