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5 Questions with Susy, a former THS Volunteer!

Did you know that Teen Health Source has been around for 25 years! Started in 1993, Teen Health Source has grown from just a phone sexual health info line into a total phone/text/email/online chat peer education service PLUS this very blog that you’re reading RIGHT NOW! To help celebrate our 25th Anniversary, we’re checking in with some of our previous volunteers to see what THS was like when they were on the lines, and where they’re headed now. Today we’re hearing from Susy! Susy was on the youth advisory committee at Planned Parenthood Toronto (then called The House) who helped to start what we now know today at Teen Health Source. So while not a THS volunteer, definitely an important part of our history!

What was Teen Health Source like when you were a volunteer?

It was cozy. You know what? I haven’t been to the space, so I don’t know how it’s changed.

What happened was I had been using the services at The House as a teenager, and I wanted to give back so I applied to be a volunteer. But at that point the volunteers were all adults, the people who would have meetings with you and talk about birth control options and things like that were adults. So the volunteer coordinator wouldn’t give me a role. But then they called me back a few months later and said, “We’re creating a peer advisory board, would you sit on it?” Basically they used us to consult on a lot of things they were doing, logo changes and stuff, but we were asking “Why don’t you have peer advisors? You have all these volunteers who are adults talking to kids. Why can’t the kids talk to the kids?” They didn’t have funding to actually start a whole new volunteer program, but they created the phone line.

Why did you want to volunteer at Teen Health Source?

I actually never ended up volunteering for the lines because I think I ended up moving away for university. But I would have been one, had I stayed in town! It was really limited back then. I think there were 2 volunteers or something.

How did volunteering impact your life after you left Teen Health Source?

It was such an amazing experience! The center gave us a pretty dominant role, and so it was one of the first times in your life as a young adult/old teenager (I was probably about 19) being able to have a voice in some pretty serious decision making. For example, we got to choose the new logo for the house, we implemented this program, I went to City Hall to advocated to the funding committee to fund the peer advisory line. It changed my life a lot! And to be able to look back on that legacy and see that the program grew and developed is always kind of in the back of my head like “I did that!”

Since you were a volunteer, has anything happened in the field of Sexual Health that you’re excited about?

I don’t know if it’s something I’m “excited” about, but seeing the fight for sex ed in the schools and how it keeps cycling. Really? Why are a we here again having this conversation?

I think that PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) has gotta be one of the most exciting things. I’ve lived through that era of watching many, many people die, and having some hope that people don’t need to die from AIDS anymore, that HIV is not a death sentence anymore is amazing. (Ed: More info on PrEP available at actoronto.org.)

It’s so interesting because sometimes it feels like it hasn’t changed very much at all, and sometimes it’s changed a lot. It feels like when you’re around younger people or watching the news or maybe even just from TV shows, it seems that teenagers are getting more and more mature. But then […] you bring condoms [to a volunteer fair] and they’re all going “Heehee, oh my god, condoms!” It’s kind of cute how they haven’t changed that much, and there’s still a bit of an innocence around it.

Do you have a favourite resource that you like sharing with people? Or is there a resource you wish existed?

That’s a complicated question! I’m kind of involved in the Kink community, and a lot of the times that I’m pointing people to sexual health information it’s probably more kink-related. And it’s more authors and people that I know that are really talented at explaining something, like Lee Harrington. So I don’t know if it’s a particular website so much as particular people. I haven’t had to talk to youth about vanilla sex in a really long time. For younger people, I’d still point them at PPT. I would say that ACT (AIDS Committee of Toronto) has some really good sexual health education and harm reduction information.

Thanks, Susy! For more in our 25th Anniversary series, check out teenhealthsource.com/tag/25-years

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