Alberto and Marylin work in Community and Government Relations (CGR) at our El Centro health center. They teach sexual education to youth in the Imperial Valley.
The twist: Imperial Valley schools are not allowing Planned Parenthood to teach sex ed. So Alberto and Marylin teach classes out in the community.
Alberto, the community engagement manager, has been with Planned Parenthood since 2012 (first at the Coachella Community Education office). He moved to the El Centro CGR office in 2015.
“It’s different here,” Alberto said. “In Coachella, Planned Parenthood has had a presence for about 20 years. People were already familiar with the services and there was trust.”
“Here in El Centro,” he said, “We’re new. It’s a very conservative area. We still need to educate people about our services and programs.”
The sex ed classes Alberto and Marylin teach are part of the CA PREP grant: It allows Planned Parenthood to teach 6 units to students, ages 10 to 19. This “Be Proud, Be Responsible” program covers STIs, birth control, healthy relationships, consent, pregnancy options, abortion, body image, misconceptions of media, and other topics.
Alberto and Marylin teach at Pacific Southwest apartment complexes all over Imperial Valley, or places like Hope Café and OneStop in Calexico and SIATech in El Centro. And they go door to door, talking to parents, seeking permission to teach their children.
“Students may not have transportation. When the classes are held here in town, sometimes kids carpool together. That’s the good side,” said Marylin, community engagement specialist. She’s been teaching at Planned Parenthood for 3 years.
During her classes, she finds students to be ill-informed about birth control and many other topics.
“At the beginning, they’re quiet,” said Marylin. “Once we’re in the modules, they start opening up and asking questions. They lack basic information about how their bodies work and function. It’s incredible how much information they’re lacking.”
“The students get to ask questions,” Alberto said. “It’s probably the first time they’ve been in a safe environment to do that.”
Before working at Planned Parenthood, Alberto was a substitute teacher.
“I really like educating people, and providing appropriate education to youth,” he said. “We’re not encouraging them to be sexually active. We’re teaching them how to be careful and protect themselves.”
The El Centro health center sees its share of protestors on a regular basis.
“There’s a small and vocal group of protestors here,” Alberto said. “Every day, there are one or two, sometimes more.”
“When I first started working in Imperial Valley, there were a lot of people protesting,” Marylin said. “They took pictures of us in our cars when we’d come into the center. During health fairs, people would come up to my face and say how abortion was not okay.”
But the community is getting to know the Planned Parenthood educators and all the services they offer.
“A lot of people are opening their doors to us, and it’s creating trust,” Marylin said. “Before, people would go with what their church said. We canvassed — people weren’t aware of all our services. They find out, and then say: ‘I might not agree with the abortion part, but all these services are great.’”
Alberto sometimes finds it challenging to try to work with groups that don’t want to host Planned Parenthood.
“But I’ve seen a lot of progress,” Alberto said. “We’re taking it step by step. We have people who open their doors to us. We’ll keep trying, we’ll keep fighting. It takes time. In a few more years, we should be in a better place.”
Both Alberto and Marylin feel that their efforts are seen and appreciated.
“Our presence here is needed,” Alberto said. “This is one of the best things to happen to Imperial Valley. We know that people are grateful for Planned Parenthood. They may not hold a sign on the sidewalk that they support us — but they appreciate us and use these services.”
He enjoys his job and the community he and Marylin help educate.
“I like this community. I like living here,” Alberto said. “People are very respectful, very nice. We’re making progress. I’d like to make it faster. Each region is different.”
“I wear my Planned Parenthood shirt now,” Marylin said. “At the beginning, I wouldn’t go anywhere with it on. Now, I sometimes wear it on purpose.”