TUCSON, Ariz. — Young people helping young people take control of their reproductive health. That is what one program at El Rio Health Centers is doing.
Offering young adult-only services, the Reproductive Health Access Project (RHAP) was created by Joy Baynes, a family nurse practitioner. Through this program, the cost of reproductive health services is covered for those ages 14 to 20. All methods of birth control, STI testing and treatment, and pregnancy testing come at no cost.
What makes RHAP even more unique is its peer-to-peer model. Baynes said she puts the program's power in the interns: high school and college students who are the trained leaders of RHAP.
"I think its really important because a lot of people don't understand the high stress or almost the uncomfortable-ness it is to talk about this stuff. So I think having someone your age and someone you can relate to, hearing it from those people can be really comforting," said Karen Torres, a RHAP intern.
Reproductive health can be a taboo subject for teenagers and young adults.
"Its very important to know where you can get your resources and feel comfortable knowing, since our schools are not helping us with that information, so we might as well teach it to our own peers,” said Emily Morel, a RHAP intern.
Before launching these services in 2017, Baynes conducted focus groups to see what teens wanted and needed out of a reproductive health program.
"Not only did I think there was a need, we then discovered that there was actually a need. And the way the program was designed was based on the feedback from the focus groups. So we asked young people, what are your greatest barriers to accessing services?” said Baynes.
The young people said transportation, so RHAP offers free transportation to and from the eight El Rio clinic locations that offer the program.
They said walk-in availability, so RHAP has a walk-in model with extended hours.
They also said services that were free and confidential, which are aspects of RHAP that Baynes is proud to provide.
"Our clinics our always full. Young people are here and I think they feel safe here, they recognize they can ask questions of their peers. The first people they see are their peers, and then they're able to get the service they need that same day,” said Baynes.
"I think at this point, we're starting to see results. And we're starting to see how our group has really effected and changed people's lives, so I think that's pretty awesome,” said Miranda Escobar, a RHAP intern.
"Yeah, I agree. Its very empowering. Not only for ourselves but for the teens that we're teaching. Especially since they may not be getting that from school or family," said Dezjanira Acuna, a RHAP intern.
RHAP is a grant-funded project. For more information about clinic services, dates, times and locations, click here.