Teenagers volunteering with Planned Parenthood’s Rev program, a youth leadership council open to local high school students, have spent the last few weeks organizing a women’s hygiene drive that will place two brightly-colored donation boxes around the University of Oregon campus. There are boxes in both the Women’s Center, located on the ground floor of the EMU, and the Sexual Violence Prevention Services building in Oregon Hall.
The Hygiene Products Drive aims to provide youth experiencing homelessness access to basic necessities of hygiene, says Lucy Neubeck, marketing and youth education intern for Planned Parenthood. Neubeck helped facilitate the project by working with the university to make sure the boxes are visible to those interested in donating.
“Rev’s core focus is on issues related to sexual and reproductive healthcare,” Neubeck said. “Supporting marginalized people to care for and find joy in their bodies is inherently connected to our goals.”
Rev, which is short for Revolution, began in 2005 as a group of seven high school students mostly for South Eugene High School. Joanne Alba, education program manager, says their mission was to bring the youth together to help coordinate community building exercises.
“What we needed was to bring young people in and have them at the table to be advisors in essence,” Alba said. “Adults can’t always be the ones to come up with ideas. They’re the experts for their generation.”
Alba, who has been with Planned Parenthood for 19 years, recalled that the idea for Rev came from looking at how Western Europe handled teen pregnancy.
“There was a team of folks from Oregon that got to go to Western Europe several years in a row to explore what they were doing that’s had these successful outcomes,” Alba said. “What we learned was that the youth were apart of the conversation when it comes to making decisions about policies.”
Martina Shabram, who received her doctorate in English at UO, become the youth leadership coordinator for the Rev program three years ago. Shabram is also a Planned Parenthood community educator, acting as an outside expert on topics ranging from safe sex practices to consent education.
“We teach fifth graders, middle schoolers, high schoolers. I’ve taught at UO,” Shabram said. “It’s a safe space where students can ask me questions that maybe they would feel inhibited to ask a teacher who they have to look in the eyes for the rest of the year.”
Through the Rev program, Shabram is able to act as a mentor to youth who seek to gain experience in community outreach, public speaking and event organization. Yet, she says she also learns a great deal from the participants themselves.
“They are the experts in their own experience. I know a lot about a lot. But I don’t know what it’s like to be 16 today,” Shabram said. “When we can empower and trust young people to tell us what they need and to feel safe advocating for themselves, they’re really able to make substantial changes in their communities.”
In November, Rev participants led an initiative to spread awareness about Measure 106, a ballot measure that attempted to prohibit spending public funds on abortion, before the 2018 midterm elections. The measure did not pass.
“Every single one of the students who participated in Rev was not able to vote in this past election,” Shabram said, “But collectively they donated hundreds of hours and called literally hundreds of people and knocked on hundreds of doors to encourage people to be involved in political action.”
Connor Gabor, a senior at South Eugene High school, is in his second year with the program. Gabor believes that it’s important for young people to promote a healthier community in regards to health care and sexual education.
“I think a lot of healthcare providers are often unaware of how to attend to the needs of young people,” Gabor said. “So we do a lot of outreach in the community, like setting up youth panels, and organizing trainings for healthcare providers to learn how to talk to young people about sex.”
With the Hygiene Drive, Gabor hopes to be able to provide youth experiencing homelessness with products that allow people a level of comfort that everyone deserves.
“I know a lot of people who are homeless and can't go to school because of access to tampons or other menstrual products,” Gabor said. “it's a basic human right to be able to feel like you can go to school and not have to worry about such a basic necessity.”
After over three years with Rev, Serena Orsinger is one of the longest standing participants. With Rev, she’s able to prepare herself for higher education while gaining real world experience within her community.
“I hope to go into some kind of medical school,” Orsinger said. “And being a part of Rev has helped me to become conscious of how my relationship with my healthcare provider is affecting me as teenager. It’s about being conscious of the experience I’m having now so that I can use it in the future.”
Participants of Rev are expected to attend weekly meetings, as well as making time for various projects, such as the Hygiene Drive. Shabram says one of the most rewarding aspects of Rev is the sense of community among the participants working towards a common goal— social change.
“The youth aren’t a part of the problem. They’re the solution,” Shabram said. “And when we bring them into our decision-making process, they're going to help us not just make better decisions about young people, but better decisions in general.”