March 2, 2017
Colorado Youth Matter has a new Capacity Building Manager! With a passion for social justice, an incredible two years of service in Albania with the Peace Corps, and experience teaching the TOP curriculum in Illinois, Jill Conway is an exciting addition to CYM's team - and we wanted you to know a little more about her. That's why we sat down with Jill to learn more about her experiences, her opinions, and her passions.
1) What drew you to the sexual health education field?
Sex and sexuality are integral parts of the human experience, yet they’re often under-discussed and stigmatized across the globe. If our society continues to shame sex and normal human development, we’re doing a disservice to ourselves and future generations. I believe that providing people with medically accurate sexual health information helps them lead happier and healthier lives and reduces incidences of sexual assault, unwanted pregnancies, and STIs. I want to help people become more comfortable talking about sex and sexuality by presenting them with evidence-based and medically accurate information. Then they will have the self-efficacy and communication skills to lead productive lives inside and outside the bedroom.
2) You volunteered in Albania with the Peace Corps. What were the most valuable lessons you learned from that experience?
Serving my country as a Peace Corps Health Extension Specialist for 27 months in Albania was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I was able to connect with so many unique and talented young people, teachers, and health care professionals across the country. I learned that networking and forging partnerships in the community is key to success (and in Albania that meant going out for a lot of coffees to discuss work, life, and potential projects). The Albanians I worked with were the experts in their community, just like Colorado Youth Matter’s partners are experts in their field. I see myself as someone who is there to support and expand upon the great work that they’re already doing.
I also learned how important flexibility is within the workplace. Things often did not go the way they were initially planned while working in Albania. Sometimes we would plan an amazing, interactive sex ed lesson for young people and arrive at a school only to discover that the power in the building was out, so we’d be unable to use the materials we’d initially compiled. Being flexible, going with the flow, and being quick on my feet were essential characteristics that I needed to succeed in the Peace Corps, and I think those lessons are transferable to my work stateside.
3) You’ve worked extensively with the Teen Outreach Program (TOP). What do you think is the most beneficial or unique aspect of TOP?
My favorite part of TOP was the values-neutral approach of the program. I think it’s important to provide young people with choices, and explain how consequences may change based off of these choices. Young people are smart, and they’re the experts of their own lives. Allowing them to make decisions creates trusting relationships and empowers them to be leaders. I really enjoyed facilitating TOP with my students in East St. Louis, Illinois because it gave me the opportunity to get to know all of the unique characteristics of my students and how to incorporate their individual learning styles into the classroom.
4) In your bio you mentioned a passion for advocating for social justice. How do you think sex ed and social justice issues are intertwined?
I believe that sexual knowledge is a human right, and that we are hurting young people and our society if we do not offer comprehensive, medically accurate sexual information. Our society tends to stigmatize things that we don’t understand, and that stigma often leads to harm for individuals and for society. If we were to normalize sex and sexuality as a healthy and pleasurable part of human development, I think we could prevent a lot of that harm.
I’m also very interested in being inclusive of all identities and beginning to look beyond the binary in sexual health discussions. Many young people do not feel that their experiences are captured in the classroom, so I want to begin dismantling those boundaries deeply entrenched and internalized within our society and education system in order to help young people feel included and appreciated.
5) What are you most excited about as the new capacity building manager?
I am excited to begin cultivating relationships with the CYM staff, as well as our partners in the community. I want to help our partners succeed by providing them with the skills, information, and technical assistance they need to serve young people across Colorado. I am a Colorado native, who unfortunately did not have access to sexual health information in my schooling, so I am excited to work with CYM to help people across my home state make safe decisions regarding their health and emotional well-being.
6) What do you like to do for fun?
I thoroughly enjoy arts and crafts (especially anything that incorporates Mod Podge). Some of my favorite crafting activities include collaging, crocheting, making jewelry, and recycled art. In addition to crafts, I like reading fiction books, as well as the latest books out on sexual health. I am an information sponge and love learning as much as possible about this field. I would recommend everyone to read Come As You Are by Emily Nagowski. She is one of my favorite sexuality educators in the field and I found her book to be extremely beneficial and informative to my own personal life, as well as to my work in the field. I also enjoy hiking, biking, traveling, photography, live music, geocaching, and snuggling with my kitten, Shpirti (which means Spirit in Albanian).
7) What’s an unusual talent you have?
I’m pretty good at hula-hoop dancing!
Want to learn more about Jill? Check out her bio here, or reach out to her at 720-432-6993.