AMHERST – A party. Friends and strangers mingle. Someone asks you what you do for a living.
Sexual health educator, you respond.
Then one of two things happens, according to Ruthie Patriquin, executive director of the Sexual Health Centre for Cumberland County: the person gets very interested, or changes the subject.
Patriquin’s worked for the centre since its inception, in 1981, and she’s been running it for most of those years. The novelty has worn off for the people she interacts with. And the educator said Cumberland County has always been more open about sexual health conversations than some other jurisdictions.
“Tremendous (local) support,” she said.
It’s meaningful work, according to Patriquin.
“We’re providing an important service to meet the needs of Cumberland County residents.”
Important, but not lavishly funded, according to the executive director.
“I write a number of funding applications throughout the year,” she said.
The centre, which is open Monday through Thursday, by chance or appointment, receives much of its funding indirectly from the health department. But a quarter of their money comes from the United Way.
“That’s a significant contribution,” she said.
“We work with a bare bones budget (every year).”
So limited resources, yes, but a reach that last year encompassed almost 1,800 program participants, most of them youth. The centre conducted 170 group education sessions, and distributed 8,000 resources, which includes things like pamphlets or loans from their library.
Sexual health is an important part of overall health, according to Patriquin, and the willingness to address it publicly has changed over the years she’s been involved in education.
“People have become more and more open to discussing sexual health…”
Some parts of her mandate haven’t changed substantially. Educating about birth control and transmission of sexually transmitted infections – what used to be called STDs – are part of the centre’s mission. But newer issues have cropped up, such as sexual harassment in the context of bullying, safe sex for seniors, gender identity, and postponement of sexual activity for younger audiences.
As for the reaction to what Patriquin does for a living, different clients have different perceptions.
“It really depends on who it is,” she said.
This is the fourth in a weekly series of United Way member agency profiles.