Vail Daily column: Red Ribbon Project celebrates 20 years | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Red Ribbon Project celebrates 20 years

Red Ribbon Project is celebrating 20 years of nonprofit excellence this year. In 1996, several people came together in Avon to discuss the need for an HIV/AIDS support group in our community. Twenty years later, the organization remains steadfast, addressing all risk behaviors with young people across a broad range of ages and cultures.

Red Ribbon Project’s mission is “to promote healthier lives by empowering the community to reduce teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and other STIs.” 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. Our programs focus on healthy relationships, positive adolescent development, social-emotional wellness and overall life skills.

Have you considered the fact that the most powerful sexual health educator for a teenager is the media? This is relevant since adolescents watch an average of three to four hours of television a day. Media as a sex educator fails: Hollywood sexualizes teen girls and “normalizes” sex for an adolescent audience. Data shows that adolescents with high exposure to sexual content reported having sexual intercourse at an earlier age than individuals with less exposure. Many shows implicate that everyone is having sex and that there are no consequences. Often, when sexual content is shown on prime time television, safety or prevention is not included.

Nobody wants teens to have sex. No one wants them to drink alcohol, do drugs or text and drive. But, should we believe that there’s no chance these things will ever happen? Educating them about risks and teaching them how to be safe is critical. Parents are their kids’ most influential resource and advocate. However, according to Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at New York University, nearly half of all teens nationwide feel uncomfortable talking to their parents about sex. Nearly one in five parents are equally uncomfortable about the topic.

Arming teens with the best and most up-to-date information about sexuality, development, reproduction, birth control options and healthy relationships enable them to make healthier, more informed decisions. Red Ribbon Project for the past 20 years has been working hard to be a force of change in Eagle County. These classroom discussions are meant to supplement the conversations being had at home, not replace them. This is not about religion, morals or values. It’s about public health. Preventing teen pregnancies and the spread of disease is everyone’s responsibility, and it truly does “take a village”.

When kids grow up in communities that support sex education, as they do in Eagle County, chances are that they will be able to make healthy decisions about their bodies and sexual health and grow up to be healthy adults. There’s no question there are countless kids who have avoided pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections as a result of medically accurate information gleaned from the double emphasis of safety from their parents, teachers and educational programs such as those provided by the Red Ribbon Project.

This year is the organization’s 20-year anniversary, and there is a lot to celebrate. 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 during the past five years, from 67 in 2008 to 29 in 2014. Red Ribbon Project is dedicated to supporting our community using our programs to prepare young people for adulthood and end adolescent pregnancy.

Denise Kipp is the mother of three young children and the executive director of the Red Ribbon Project, which is marking its 20-year anniversary. Visit http://www.redribbon project.org for more information or to make a donation.