Vail Daily column: Putting an end to myths |

Vail Daily column: Putting an end to myths

“You can cure yourself of HIV if you drink a bottle of Coca-Cola.” “Our community has healers who can cure you if you have sex with them.” These were a few of the horrific misinformed statements I heard from youth when I was working with an African nongovernmental organization in Tanzania in 2005. I returned to Eagle County shocked and determined. I was determined to raise awareness in my community about my experience with the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. Equally as important, I wanted to play a role in making sure our local youth had access to correct information surrounding sexuality, pregnancy and HIV/AIDS, and access to resources for their prevention needs. Fortunately, for our community and my intentions to support youth in our community and raise awareness surrounding HIV/AIDS, I connected with Red Ribbon Project.

Red Ribbon Project is a small but extremely impactful nonprofit organization that began in 1996 to bring awareness and education to Eagle County in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In the early years, much of Red Ribbon Project’s work revolved around education and awareness regarding HIV/AIDS. In recent years, the programming has focused to highlight attitudes and skill building as vehicles for successful prevention efforts. The Red Ribbon Project’s programs have a sharp focus that ensures all youth receive comprehensive, developmentally appropriate, evidence-based, sexual health education designed for all cultures, ages and genders.

Red Ribbon Project’s mission is “to promote healthier lives by empowering the community to reduce teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.” To prevent teen pregnancy and encourage young people to focus on healthy relationships, Red Ribbon Project needed an approach that covered a lot of ground. A program was identified and modified for implementation in our community called “Life Works,” which is a comprehensive life skills program. This program focuses on healthy relationships, positive adolescent development, and life skills. As you may know, Eagle County’s school population is approximately 50 percent Latino, and young Latino women experience early pregnancy at a much higher rate than the general population. Extensive efforts were made to identify a curriculum that would be culturally appropriate, celebrate Latino culture, and be effective in delaying pregnancy. In addition to the Life Works program, a culturally appropriate teenage pregnancy prevention program called Cuidate! (Take Care of Yourself) has also been implemented at the local public high schools.

The program is delivered by educators who have an active presence in the students’ lives.

“Life skills are woven throughout the curriculum,” says Narda Reigel, Red Ribbon Project’s main educator.

Many of the role-plays and interactive classroom discussions focus on key skills such as decision-making, negotiation and communication.

“One of the things that I love so much about the life skills and healthy relationship curriculum is that it’s so varied and helps build skills that are transferrable to whatever topic we’re working on,” Reigel says. “Whether a student is in a peer pressure situation or in a romantic relationship, the same skill sets can be applied.”

After participating in the program, Eagle County teens:

• Had greater awareness of what kinds of behaviors were not aligned with personal aspirations.

• Were less likely to engage in a physical fight with a family member or peer.

• Were better equipped to engage in healthy relationships, bystander intervention and conflict resolution.

• Reported sharp declines in risk behaviors such as substance use, alcohol use and other criminal behaviors.

Please join me, Kendra Cowles, in celebrating Red Ribbon Project’s 20-year anniversary. As a concerned community member, and now a mother of two boys, I am very grateful that Red Ribbon Project is a professional, responsive and passionate nonprofit dedicated to supporting our community using their programs to prepare young people for adulthood and end adolescent pregnancy. Red Ribbon Project’s focus on teen pregnancy prevention has contributed to a significant decline in teen births. Teen births have been reduced by more than 50 percent over the last five years, from 67 in 2008 to 29 in 2014.

Kendra Cowles has been involved with the Red Ribbon Project for years. Contact Denise Kipp at and 970-827-5900 if you would like to get involved with Red Ribbon Project.

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