New OCO Program To Benefit Area Youth

FULTON, NY – Thanks to the procurement of a grant from the New York State Department of Health, area youth will find it easier to obtain the information and education they need to make wise choices regarding their personal health.

The new initiative is entitled Promotion of Adolescent Sexual Health Through Youth Leadership and Community Engagement.

The focus of the program is to not only provide young people 16 through 24 with sexual health education, but to also engage them in the process by encouraging their active participation.

Coordinated by OCO’s Youth and Family Services Department, the agency will lead the program that is in essence a partnership that will include members of the Fulton Collaboration for Community Change such as OCO Health Services, Oswego County BOCES Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Services, the Fulton Community YMCA, the Fulton School District and Cayuga Community College.

While staff from OCO’s Youth and Family Services will utilize their experience and expertise in positive youth development their efforts will be complimented by the addition of volunteer peer specialists.

Enhancement services coordinator for OCO Youth and Family Services, Kathleen Knopp said, “We are bringing on young people to help with shaping and implementing this program. Volunteers ages 16 to 24 will be serving as educators for youth 13 to 24. They will join our staff as we conduct community drop in sessions, and other outreach activities to help other young people connect to the resources and information they need regarding HIV infection, Sexually Transmitted Infections and unwanted pregnancy. Special presentations as well as evidence-based, comprehensive, youth-centered, and developmentally appropriate sexual health education programs will help us achieve that goal.”

These peer specialists join staff members from partner agencies as they work with the community and area schools to conduct outreach and develop strategies that will help get health information into young people’s hands and connect them other resources.

“Our goal is to become very active in the community as we engage school districts, civic organizations, parents, and young people in helping us in our effort,” added OCO’s director of youth and family services, Eric Bresee.

According to Knopp, volunteers who serve as peer specialists will undergo a thorough training process and work with OCO health educators and representatives from Oswego County BOCES Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Services to ensure that they are providing accurate, developmentally appropriate, comprehensive information about sexual health and access to comprehensive health services within Oswego County.

To allow sufficient time for volunteers to come together, Bresee said that the program would get under way near the end of the year.

“In addition to their training, we want the peer specialists to be involved with the design and the specifics of the project. Our objective is to have this project be driven by youth involvement and youth leadership. This is a project that is about youth, for youth and by youth,” Bresee said.

“We are excited about having youth involved with this project,” added Knopp. “We see the value of bringing young people to the table and working side by side with adults to better their community. By engaging youth to work with us on a project at this level it helps to establish a positive image for young people.”

OCO is a private, non-profit agency that has been supporting communities throughout Oswego County since 1966 and touches the lives of more than 20,000 people annually.

The agency has been providing mental health residential services to the community since 1980.

It is a United Way of Greater Oswego County member agency.

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For more information on OCO’s Youth and Family Services, call Knopp at 342-7532.