As peer leaders in Children's Hospital Boston's Center for Young Women's Health (CYWH), Boston high-school students Pauline Chin, Paoli Roman, Dennisse Rorie and Rahiem Crawford offer education and advice to other adolescents on key health topics, including eating healthfully, maintaining self-esteem and staying safe in relationships. The leaders spend most of their after-school hours either in the CYWH's hospital-based resource center, helping visitors utilize reading materials and the center's online computer system, or out in the community giving presentations to teens in after-school programs. The CYWH recently welcomed Crawford, the first male leader, into the program to meet the growing need to support young men.
Phaedra Thomas, RN, BSN, nurse coordinator of the center, has worked with peer leaders since the program began in 1999. "I could lecture a group of young people about the same topics, but when their peers do it, participants really listen," she says. "It's like they cast a spell over their audience. I feel honored to be working with such amazing young people who are so passionate about empowering others."
That passion especially comes into play when the group works with community-based peer programs on projects like fitness and nutrition. Daisy Ortega, program coordinator for Sociedad Latina in Roxbury, an organization that acts as a human service resource center for Boston youth and families, has seen that first-hand. "They teach their peers about nutrition, but are also trying to adopt those lessons in their own lives at the same time," she says. "And they're able to share their own experiences."
Peer leaders Chin, Roman and Crawford sat down for a short Q&A to discuss the program.
Why did you decide to become a peer leader?
Roman: I enjoy helping people and I'm a natural caretaker. I also like the idea of peer interaction while working in a medical environment.
Crawford: My family is medically oriented, so I always thought I would be involved in the field. I see adults working in hospitals talking to teens, and I think young adults have a better chance of influencing their peers.
Chin: I wanted to grow as a person by being involved in a program like this, and I wanted to make an impact on my community.
How did the program prepare you to educate your peers?
Roman: I came to the CYWH every week with the other leaders and participated in intensive training. We learned about the health topics we would be presenting and how to communicate with other young adults.
Chin: Our trainings were like school—we had to be professional, responsible and show up on time.
What resources does the CYWH provide?
Chin: We have a newly renovated Web site, www.youngwomenshealth.org. All of the information is written by the CYWH staff. There's also Teen Talk, a monthly newsletter, written by us. Each issue is based on current events, feedback from the community and seasonal safety- or health-related issues.
What's the difference between working with males and females?
Roman: I don't think there is an exact difference, but females definitely want more information about their health and aren't afraid to ask questions.
Crawford: A big part of my job at the CYWH is to encourage males to ask questions about their health. It's so easy for them to put a wall up around themselves and block everything out. I try to help them feel more comfortable. While it's awkward to talk about things like STDs and HIV testing, it's important to get them talking.
What is the biggest challenge you face when you present to your peers?
Crawford: Internet safety is tough because young people don't think anything bad can happen to them. We try to emphasize that
it's very easy to get information on the Internet and that you have to be careful about who you're talking to. They have a hard time
accepting that it could affect them.
Chin: Talking to the younger girls about self-esteem is difficult. They don't understand what having self-esteem means or how to improve it, and they don't realize how much they're influenced by what they see in the media. But hopefully what we say will mean something to them in the future. All we can do is plant the seed and wait for it to grow.
For more information on the CYWH and the peer leader program, contact Phaedra Thomas RN, BSN, nurse coordinator, at ext. 5-7712.