"Responsibility Day," an interactive carnival that will take place next week at the Payson High School's Wilson Dome, is designed to address a sobering statistic -- that Payson has the highest number of teenage pregnancies in Gila County.
Michelle DeRouin, Students Against Drunk Driving coordinator for the Payson Center for Success and a case manager at Rim Guidance Center, said it's not hard to understand why.
"We've done no prevention, and that's the biggest part," DeRouin said. "It's like if we don't talk about it, it's going to go away, and if we do talk about it, it's going to encourage it. That is not the way it goes."
DeRouin believes other factors contribute to the problem.
"I think some of it has to do with kids being bored," she said. "Also, we're in a rural setting so you can drive (onto) a dirt road anywhere you want and have privacy."
DeRouin also blames a high rate of drug use among parents.
"What type of example are you setting, what kind of values?" she said. "If you're not teaching them values and morals, where are they going to get it? Everywhere else, and not necessarily positive (values and morals)."
The interactive carnival, which is co-sponsored by Rim Guidance and the Payson Unified School District, will provide a fun environment to drive home a very important message -- that there are serious consequences associated with sexual activity.
The carnival will consist of about 10 or 12 challenges on topics like sexually transmitted diseases, sex-related consequences of drug and alcohol use, and how to say "No."
"Payson High School and Rim Guidance decided we need to start educating our teens on sexual consequences -- not just that you can get pregnant, but that you can get diseases, and the financial aspects of it."
Activities will range from a diaper changing relay to a block building game where students compete to say, "No."
In another game, students will be given a handful of different-colored M&Ms -- all except red, which DeRouin will have. "When they talk to one another, they exchange an M&M," DeRouin said. What the students don't know is that each color stands for a consequence. Red, for example, stands for AIDS.
"At the end, they gather in groups by the dominant color in their hand," DeRouin said. "Then we'll talk about what each color represents, and they'll see how just one person can infect a whole room."
All students from Payson High School and Payson Center for Success are scheduled to attend the event during the school day Friday, May 2. A special preview for parents and the community will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday.
Parents who don't want their children to attend must return the "Denial to Attend Event" slip sent home this week. Slips also will be available at the Thursday evening preview.
Several local churches, including First Southern Baptist, Shepherd of the Pines Lutheran and Payson Christian, have endorsed the event.
"The reason I thought it was interesting is that this organization -- Rim Guidance -- was able to get it going at the public school and get the approval for it," Shepherd of the Pines pastor Todd Arnold said. "It's something that's really needed in the community and something the churches would have liked to have gone in and done, but we weren't sure we'd be able to do that."
The event also is endorsed by the New Beginnings Crisis Pregnancy Center, according to Arnold, who serves as chairman of that organization's board of directors.
DeRouin emphasized that the carnival is abstinence-based.
"We are using different ways to educate them on the consequences of early sexual involvement, with the emphasis on abstinence," she said. "We are teaching kids that the best way to guarantee you're not going to get an STD, or get pregnant, or any of these consequences, is to abstain."
When DeRouin says the message needs to hit home, she is speaking from personal experience. She became pregnant as a teenager.
"This is dear to my heart because I was pregnant at 17," she said. "When I graduated, I was five months pregnant. I understand there are other things besides sex that lead up to a kid wanting to make that decision. It's not just about: ‘I'm going to have sex right now.' A lot of times kids are looking for love, they're looking for security, looking for relationships that maybe they're not getting other places. A lot of things lead up to that choice, so it's not (always) real spontaneous. It's thought out and planned."
Volunteers are needed to set up the carnival and run the games. To volunteer, or for more information, call DeRouin at 595-0127 or Linda Gibson, PUSD prevention coordinator and PHS SADD sponsor, at 472-5742.