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National Clearinghouse on Homeless Youth and Families

Youth Speak Out: Making Youth Health 'A Personal Thing'

Two team members from Jacksonville’s Project S.O.S. program describe how their original play, "Live Like it Counts," has helped convey the benefits of healthy youth lifestyles and sexual abstinence to a larger audience.

Time: 8:21 | Size: 7.6 MB


KEY: FS - Female Speaker; MS - Male Speaker


John Lingan: [music] Welcome to the Positive Youth Development Podcast Series from the Family and Youth Services Bureau within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The series is produced by the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth. In this episode, we take a look at one nonprofit group that uses creativity to advocate for youth abstinence from sex, drugs and alcohol. [music]


FS: I just don't think this is something I want to do right now.


MS: Why not? We love each other, right? I mean, I love you at least. And I'm pretty sure you love me.


FS: I think I do too.


MS: So?


FS: So ... I have a feeling that after we do this, things are going to be different.


John Lingan: It's the number one challenge for all youth health advocates nowadays. How to get their message across to an audience who is bombarded with media throughout the day. So a number of organizations employ creative means like plays and skits to deliver their message. Project SOS in Jacksonville, Florida has had great recent success with their one act play "Live Like It Counts" which dramatizes nearly a half dozen pressing teen issues and shows how abstinence can help youth confront these problems.


FS: What if you don't call me? Or what if you're disappointed? Or what if you meet another girl at college?


MS: Heather, you couldn’t possibly disappoint me. What are you really worried about? Me meeting other girls?


FS: Yes. Um, no. Maybe. I don't know. I know you well, but ...


MS: But what?


FS: I just don't want to have sex.


John Lingan: Andrew Cardy is Project SOS's Youth Development Coach and the author of "Live Like It Counts."


Andrew Cardy: We average around 20,000 students a year with a number of different programs that we do. But one of the things that we've done ever since they started was the stage assemblies. Up until this last year, most of that was short skits that we would use. We'd do some demonstrations that would get students from the audience up on stage with us. What we want to do is we wanted to make as close to the short skits that led to teaching moments, we wanted the drama. We wanted the skits to actually be the teaching. Most of the way that students these days are getting information is through the media, you know, through television and through these different ways. They're not really sitting and listening to lectures and reading so much. We wanted to take on the challenge of presenting all of the information that we have in a real way with real characters that they could relate to. But in an entertaining way. So that it'd be a full length play.


John Lingan: Markeyta Williams was a Project SOS participant in Midland High School. Now twenty-two, she's an actor in "Live Like It Counts".


Markeyta Williams: When I was in middle school, Project SOS came to my school and they put on their program. And at the time, it was just a lead teacher and maybe a couple of their younger people. And they would do skits. And they would perform skits that consisted of, um, they were funny. They were very funny. And they talked about like real life topics about being in a relationship or being in the middle of peer pressure. I remember seeing them in middle school. And I just thought what it was that they were doing was really cool. Because they were older than me. But yeah, I could still relate with them.


Andrew Cardy: Two of my colleagues and I, we sat down and kind of mapped out the problems that we wanted to tackle. Because obviously, we're not going to be able to touch on every single issue that teenagers are encountering. But we looked at maybe the top five. And we said, all right. Let's tackle these. How can we create a story line that would involve these issues, but in a way that seems realistic and with characters that could interact with each other in a number of settings.


Markeyta Williams: You see these characters and you see who it is that they're portraying. And you see how they're living their lives. And how in the end of the play, how they decide to do a complete 180. And we also tell them that, you know, you can change your life. You have the choice. You live your life for yourself, not for anyone else. We're showing these kids how your life can be in a positive way and how it can be in a negative way. And if it is in a negative way, how you can change it into a positive way.


MS: Hey, gentlemen. Before you all go there, there's something that you need to see.


MS: What's that?


MS: Not what is it? Who is it?


MS: Who's that?


MS: Oh, she is fine. Who is this?


MS: Some girl, Jacqueline.


MS: Jacqueline like from our school Jacqueline?


MS: Yeah, from our school Jacqueline.


MS: Whoa, whoa. Do I know her?


MS: Well, yeah. She's got statistics.


MS: Yeah, man. She's got statistics.


MS: How'd you get those pics, man?


MS: She sent them to me, man.


MS: Why?


MS: Because she wanted to. It's cool. Just chill, man.


MS: It just seems wrong. We know her.


Andrew Cardy: One of the things that really helps the abstinence message to succeed is when it's a personal thing. When students are able to see that there's a person that's made a choice, that's a real choice and an honest choice and not ... you know, they're not weird. They're not kind of out of the box or anything like that. They're just like them. Audiences can be drawn to a movie or drawn to a character. I see this character encounter a problem. And I see them work themselves through this problem. And their life is better at the end of it. And then when I leave that performance or I leave that film, I have a greater sense of, all right. Well, if this guy did it, you know, the situations I'm facing in life, I can get through this as well. And here's some ideas.


Markeyta Williams: The kids' response at the end of it, they love it. Like they really enjoy the play. They pay attention to each character. They see what she is going through. They feel empathy for her. And they feel I don't want to be like that. Like that's what goes through their minds. I don't ever want to be like that. I like the fact that my character does touch on some parts. Because in the end, she stands up for herself and for who she is. And the kids, they're like, okay. I like that. I like that. And if she can do it, I can too.


Andrew Cardy: What speaks to the honesty and reality of this play is that it's had almost the same reaction in every setting we've gone to. The very first place we performed this at was an urban setting. And all of us were a little anxious to see how they might react to this. And we had standing ovations every performance that we did. And within that same week, we were at a private school. And very different audience, you know, very different culture of that school. And yet, they responded in the same way with a standing ovation. Students would come up to us. And sometimes, you know, even if it's not something we touch on, they'll bring to us another issue. And they're like, well, what do you think about this? And we've given them the positive information, the positive facts. But we're giving it in a way that is relatable and we are able to earn their trust that way.


Markeyta Williams: It's so amazing to hear them when it's all over and how they scream. Like they just yell at the top of their lungs. And they loved it when we're thinking, oh. They're not paying attention. Because they're so quiet. But in fact, they're just listening. They're paying attention to everything.


Andrew Cardy: We'll go to schools and we'll meet people that are my age now and saw SOS and who remember some of those skits. But the thing that's interesting to me even in that example is that they're remembering the skits. It's not necessarily that they're coming to us and saying, hey. I remember that you talked about STDs. And I remember the facts that you gave. You know, they'll remember the characters. And they'll remember some of the staff that we had. And so when we're approaching this current school year and looking at what we could do, we said let's step up our excellence. You know, let's challenge ourselves as actors. Let's challenge ourselves as an abstinence organization in the way that we're presenting the information. And it's been such a great success.


Markeyta Williams: They can see in each character, oh, I know somebody like that. Oh, I know somebody who's gone through that. Like each person in the play, they can relate it either with themselves or with someone else that they know.


John Lingan: The National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth is a free information service that offers resources for people and organizations interested in helping youth.  For more information on mentoring programs and opportunities, visit