By Christina Whiting
Zoe Story wants to make a difference in the world. The Homer High School senior is preparing to graduate in the spring, and is already well on her way toward making a difference — starting right here in Homer.
Story has been involved in Girl Scouts, volleyball and synchronized swimming since very young. When she got a job with Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic two years ago, her passion and focus shifted from sports to women’s reproductive health issues.
Working part-time at the clinic as a peer educator in the Alaska Promoting Health Among Teens program, Story is trained by the State of Alaska in their sexual health program. She follows a curriculum and teaches her peers about abstinence, safer sex and healthy relationships.
To date, she’s shared the program with teens in Port Graham, Nanwalek, Seldovia and Homer. She also helps at the clinic’s R.E.C. Room, a place that provides resources and activities for teens.
“I have always known, even since I was little, that I wanted to help people,” Story shared. “Through my work at the clinic, I’ve grown really passionate about women’s health.”
The peer education program is funded by a grant from Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Women’s and Children’s and Family Health. It’s a 4-year experiment that Homer and three other Alaska communities are conducting to determine if peer-to-peer education is an effective means to teach teens healthy relationships, abstinence and safer sex.
“Zoe has always been a wonderfully dedicated and responsible person who had a lot of heart for this work and for helping her peers,” R.E.C. Room’s Peer Coordinator Doug Koester said. “She has really dedicated herself to helping her peers and other people in the community. Talking about reproductive health is on the fringes of what is acceptable and what is taboo, and Zoe’s ability to share a pretty difficult subject matter with her peers is amazing.”
The clinic staff attends regular trainings, and during a webinar last spring, Story learned about the growing problem of sex trafficking within and outside of the United States. This past September, she represented the clinic at Girls Educational Mentoring Services training in Anchorage.
“The mentoring services program, created by a survivor of sexual exploitation, is designed to help girls who are getting out of sex-trade work,” Story said. “After this training, I became really invested in helping with this issue.”
According to national estimates, there are 100,000 children in the commercial sex trade in the United States. Story recently met with Louie Flora, advisor to Rep. Paul Seaton, to discuss the importance of bringing the Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act to Alaska. This comprehensive bill seeks to eradicate sex trafficking of minors, focusing on prosecuting the demand for commercial sex by increasing the penalties for those that engage in it.
The act defines sexually exploited children as victims of abuse, and grants them immunity from prosecution for prostitution while they are under 18.
In addition to her work at Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic, Story is also a peer mentor at Homer High School. The program matches seniors with freshmen during weekly meetings. Story recently received a KTUU Fund the Future scholarship worth $3,000 for her continuing education.
“The TV station came to Homer and interviewed me,” she laughed. “That was pretty fun.”
Currently completing her last year of high school, Story is making plans to study Social Work and Women’s Studies at a school in Arizona, Oregon or Washington. Or she may work abroad for a year.
“I’d love to connect with an organization like AmeriCorps and work in South Africa, Nepal or India,” she said. “I want to travel and help women in these communities.”
Story appreciates the AmeriCorps program because it’s a one-year program that allows her to choose where she wants to go and what she wants to do.
“This would be a good starting point for me,” she said. “Eventually, after college, I’d like to join the Peace Corps and work in Africa’s sexual health program.”
When she’s done with school and has traveled and worked for a while, Story would like to return to Homer.
“I feel blessed to have grown up in this wonderful community,” she said. “Sometimes it’s seemed like it’s harder to get things done in a small town, like when you have to travel for training, but in other ways, it’s easier because of all the support that exists. I definitely want to return to work and raise a family here.”
Story’s dream is to open a shelter in Homer for youth and families. Her commitment to women’s reproductive health issues and her dedication to mentoring and educating her peers makes Zoe Story a strong example of youthful energy and enthusiasm directed toward a greater good.
Comments are closed