Our Health & Safety focus area champions promote the holistic health & safety of young people by meeting basic health needs and ensuring young people are safe and not criminalized in their communities. Youthprise has partnered with Better Together Hennepin (BTH), an initiative of Hennepin County, to provide resources and increase access to high-quality health education programming. Often pegged as a teen pregnancy prevention initiative (an area in which BTH has achieved success with a 66% reduction in teen birth rates), the work is more expansive than prevention. BTH’s goal is to create access for young people to sexual health education programming, adolescent-friendly health care, healthy youth development opportunities, and connections to caring adults. All of the sexual health education is trauma-informed and LGBTQ inclusive. In addition, BTH employs youth development practices and utilizes youth voice through active youth leadership councils and youth-led peer groups.
Youthprise has partnered with Better Together Hennepin (BTH), an initiative of Hennepin County, to provide resources and increase access to high quality sexual health education programming. Often pegged as a teen pregnancy prevention initiative (an area in which they’ve achieved success with a 66% reduction in teen birth rates), their work is more expansive than prevention alone. BTH’s goal is to create access for young people to sexual health education programming, adolescent-friendly health care, healthy youth development opportunities, and connections to caring adults. Across all of the work that BTH does, one thing is clear: through partnerships with youth-serving organizations, BTH strives to create safe spaces for young people by centering on their voices. In fact, the initiative began close to ten years ago because young people expressed a need for more comprehensive sexual health education during a county needs assessment process.
Better Together Hennepin youth
If you spend any time in Hannah Mikhelson’s office, it becomes evident that young people feel safe and comfortable with her. Hannah works for Annex Teen Clinic but serves as a Health Mentor & Sexuality Educator at Brooklyn Center High School. Throughout any day, a stream of students stop by looking for resources, to check in, and just to connect. Young people see her as a resource, a role model, and most importantly, as a trusted adult. The Health Mentor Model is a unique approach to sexual health education. The model features an embedded sexual health educator (Hannah) who supports classroom-based sex education, small group work that is driven by the youth advisory council, one-on-one work with students (all the knocks on the door) and systems work that strives to build supportive school environments for students. In addition to funding, Youthprise offered Design Thinking technical assistant to support the planning and development of youth and community engagement strategies to use in the work.
A core aspect of BTH is the focus on centering young people who are most impacted. All of the sexual health education is based on trauma-informed approaches, there is a focus on youth development practices that centers youth voice through the youth advisory council and youth-led peer groups, and there is an intentional focus on LGBTQ-inclusive spaces. In Hannah’s office you can see stickers that read “Safe Space” featuring a rainbow flag that indicate her office is a safe space to talk about issues impacting queer youth. She explained that she also brings these stickers to classrooms or other spaces where they hold programming to ensure that anywhere they meet that young people know they are safe.
Better Together Hennepin youth at a health fair
True to the origin story of the initiative, one of the most exciting things about BTH are the ways that it recognizes the needs that young people identify. An example of this is an education group that is led by teen parents to provide support and resources to young parents who are facing the challenges and stigma of parenting while young. Another example is a systems change initiative spurred by youth voice that secured gender-neutral bathrooms at a school to ensure the safety and comfort of transgender and gender nonconforming students.
Better Together Hennepin student group
In the face of funding cuts, it is critical that BTH continues to carry on the important work of making schools a safer space for all young people. Like much of the work within our Health & Safety focus area, BTH goes beyond prevention by centering youth voice and supporting holistic youth engagement strategies in an effort to transform young people’s lives for the better.