The first time I came to Planned Parenthood Mar Monte (PPMM), I was a 19-year old college kid at Fresno State and, yeah, I needed to get tested for STDs. As soon as I walked into the health center on Van Ness St., I felt comfortable — like I wasn’t being judged — and that I would be taken care of. (You can see me talk about my PPMM story on our “Voices of our Patients” video here.)
I remembered that visit years later when, in 2000, an old college buddy suggested that I apply for a job on the Education staff at PPMM. Soon after I was hired, I helped expand the Male Involvement Program (MIP) which assists at-risk young men to prevent unintended fatherhood and make smart decisions about their reproductive health. I was struck by how much the young men I was working with looked and sounded like me – except they were in Juvenile Hall. I didn’t want them to go through what I did when I didn’t have some really basic information to protect my health. But it was not easy to reach them.
When I’d make a presentation to a class, the guys were often rowdy, listening to music, or even falling asleep. Finally, I realized I had to let them be my teachers. I listened to the way they talked about their lives, and they began to trust me to talk to them about responsibility and what it means to be a man.
Some of the guys used to say, “Don’t talk about the sensitive stuff,” like how worried their parents were about them. They said it made them feel ashamed. But I said, “We have to talk about that stuff! That’s how you get connected back to your families, back to your soul, back to who you really are.”
It was really great when I finally felt like I was getting through and helping them look at their lives differently. Suddenly, I began to hear comments like, “Thanks for making me think” and “Good lookin’ out!” which meant “thanks for taking care of me.”
Those experiences are what I love about my job – making that connection and making a difference in people’s lives that also makes a big difference for the whole community.
Now I’m in the Public Affairs department, and it’s just as important to communicate with legislators about how to protect access to services for thousands of people all over the Central Valley who rely on PPMM – including the young men I counseled in the Male Involvement Program.
Sixteen years later, I can say that it was a great career decision.