- Unitarian Universalism Connection
In today’s media-saturated world, our youth are exposed to constant and often contradictory messages about body image and sexuality. One proven way to empower them on their journey is to guide them through a comprehensive sexuality education program. We propose to do that for the youth of Pensacola through the acclaimed Our Whole Lives (OWL) program.
OWL is a critically acclaimed, inclusive and comprehensive sexuality education program. OWL was developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the United Church of Christ (UCC). The program is used regularly by both religious groups and in secular settings nationwide. The program itself is non-spiritual, but churches have the option of adding their own spiritual component to the program to emphasize that church’s values.
OWL classes serve as a vital resource and safe space for participants to obtain accurate health information and to promote body-positive awareness while exploring topics such as self-respect, healthy relationships, consent, safer sex and protection against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The OWL program at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Pensacola (UUCP) is supported by Rev. Dr. Julie Kain, the UUCP Board, and the congregation, as well as the Children’s Religious Education (CRE) Team. It is organized and overseen by an advisory team of parents and other church members. Each OWL class is facilitated by two adults trained to deliver the program to a particular age group. The facilitators are trained during a three-day workshop, which is conducted by UUA-sanctioned trainers at locations around the country.
In Phase One, UUCP completed two OWL courses at the church — a K-1 and a 4-6 course. In this next phase, Phase Two, we seek to expand the program for 7-9 and 10-12 graders. Eventually, we plan to expand to offer the OWL program to adults and to the greater Pensacola community.
Your support will enable the OWL program at UUCP to pay for:
- training for OWL facilitators (tuition and a small travel stipend): $300 pp x 2
- OWL manuals for facilitators: $150
- class materials (anatomical models and class supplies): $150
- scholarship fund to help cover program fees for families with limited income: $200 pp x 2
- marketing to promote the program (printing and online promotion): $150
- snacks: $50
UUCP offered OWL classes for grades 4-6 and K-1 in Fall 2016 and Spring 2017, respectively. We intend to begin the 7-9 grade level OWL class in January 2018, with the 29-module class lasting until the end of the school year. We currently have three trained facilitators (one trained for K-1 and 4-6, and two trained for 7-9 and 10-12), and two trained substitutes. We would like to have two more facilitators trained during the 2017-2018 school year to aid the team. Once we have sufficient trained facilitators, we intend to offer the grade-level OWL classes on a rotating basis to meet the needs of the children in the congregation and community.
It was important to begin the OWL program at UUCP before promoting and expanding it, so the church provided the seed money to initiate the program, including assistance for training three OWL facilitators and purchasing facilitator manuals and materials. Additionally, the facilitators, substitutes, advisory team and other UUCP members have already put in 180+ service work hours. If the funding request is not met, the functioning of the program will be slowed and hindered by limited resources.
The young people who complete the OWL program will carry with them the knowledge of their experience in the program for the remainder of their lives. Reports on the progress and success of the program will be shared with the congregation and the broader community through means such as testimonials, articles in the UUCP newsletter, and news coverage in local media.
Long-Term Financial Goals
We have a plan to develop the OWL program into a self-sustaining community resource. Families whose children enroll in OWL pay a program fee. Most of the fee (70%) covers class books, which the child and parents keep and which must be replenished with each new class. The rest of the fee (30%) goes into the OWL budget for other needs such as anatomical models, facilitator training and consumable materials such as art supplies and demonstration kits. UUCP’s program is still in a start-up phase. Once we have the reusable class supplies and a larger pool of facilitators trained, we anticipate that the program fees will enable the program to be largely self-sustaining.
We will partner with local public and private organizations that provide sexual health education, advocacy and testing.
OWL in the Media
Many religious leaders and health professionals hold the OWL program in high regard. U.S. Catholic Magazine, the Jewish Women International organization, the New York Times, NPR and numerous other national and regional publications and organizations have written about the advantages of OWL in recent years.
Giving high praise to OWL, U.S. Catholic Magazine ran an article in 2016 in which the author, Claire Zulkey, argues that “parents need to get started sooner than they probably are ready for when it comes to teaching their children about sexuality.” She presents OWL as a tool to help parents teach their children. 
In 2012, Jewish Women International (JWI) published an article in which the author, Chelsea Feuchs, urges parents to “look into the acclaimed program Our Whole Lives (OWL) for guidelines about comprehensive sex-ed” rather than leaving children’s education to Cosmo and other such magazines and websites. 
The minister for sexuality education and justice at Robinsdale United Church of Christ, Ann Hanson, puts the need for OWL in a real-world context in a 2012 article on The Christian Century website. She states, “When you throw in rape culture, the Internet, advertising and the seduction of consumer culture, the situation is obviously more dire. . . . I want our youth to get their information from people who communicate to them that they are whole people of God.” 
As well as these religious publications, national news organizations are covering OWL. Peggy Orenstein, the New York Times best-selling author and journalist, spoke on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show in April 2016 about her latest book, Girls and Sex. Towards the end of the interview, she said, “one church that does a fantastic job [of educating youth about sexuality] is the Unitarian Universalist Church… They have a marvelous curriculum called ‘Our Whole Lives,’ …and it’s just wonderful about discussing sexuality in all of its broad ranges.” 
In another piece on NPR, Rachel Martin of Morning Edition, visited two churches in Seattle, Washington which were conducting sexuality education programs: a United Church of Christ (UCC) and a Southern Baptist church. The UUC church was using the OWL program, and the Baptist church used one that emphasized abstinence. After talking to leaders in both churches, she concluded, “Religious leaders remain divided about the balance of contraception versus abstinence. But one thing they agree on is that if young people are going to learn about sex, one way or another, faith communities have got to join the conversation.” 
In October 2016, Peggy Orienstein again lavishes praise on OWL in a New York Times article, stating “the Our Whole Lives program — a model for positive, comprehensive sex education that was developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ — encourages students to dismantle stereotypes from a young age.” 
Regional papers have also covered OWL. In a 2016 Missoula Current article, a program coordinator highlighted the inclusiveness of OWL. LGBTQ youth are often neglected in traditional programs, even though these youth are sometimes more vulnerable and in need of accurate, affirming information. As the coordinator of the program in Missoula puts it, “LGBTQ youth experience higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies. They also suffer higher rates of depression.” OWL, he points out, “addresses the entire spectrum of sexuality.” 
In 2013, the Capital Times, a newspaper based in Madison, Wisconsin, featured an article that covered OWL as it was being taught in local churches including a First United Methodist Church, a United Church of Christ and a First Unitarian Society. The author discusses how teaching sexuality education in a church setting offers “an opportunity to combine messages of healthy sexuality and gender identity with faith-based teachings about respect and compassion.” 
In a 2008 article about faith-based organizations that “emphasize the moral and ethical aspects of sexuality and decision-making,” the Guttmacher Institute describes the OWL program as “one of the most extensive sex education programs.”
Advocates for Youth laud OWL as one of several sexuality education programs that “support the belief that sexuality is a special gift to be nurtured through teachings and discussions within communities of faith.” 
Several youth have also written online about the advantages of going through the OWL program. In 2015, Savannah Hemmig wrote an article titled, It happened to me: I Experienced The Controversial “OWL Sexuality Education” and Your Kids Should, Too, in which she favorably compares OWL to the abstinence lessons she learned in school. 
Meg Young, another OWL graduate, writes that she was a reluctant participant at first but concludes in her 2009 piece, “OWL taught me that sexuality is not something to be ashamed of, to be hidden or feared. It is something to be questioned and explored, respected and protected. It is nuanced and complex, and sometimes infuriatingly confusing. Most of all, it is an essential part of the human experience that lasts from birth until death.”