One of the best jobs I ever had was at Exploration Summer Camp (their motto: where you make summer meaningful), where I worked from ages 18-21. As counselors, we made up classes to teach and we did activities in the afternoon. One day, I found myself co-leading a contraception jewelry-making activity. Full confession: This was not my idea. It was the brainchild of a counselor named Polly who to this day is one of the most creative people I ever met.
The campers were high school kids and, as you might expect, hormones ran high. Polly really wanted the campers to embrace safe sex but knew if she posted an afternoon activity called “sex talk,” we’d get no takers.
So there we were, laying out necklace string, barrettes and earring hangers alongside condoms, contraceptive sponges and empty birth control pill foil containers that apparently made excellent bracelets. (I didn’t ask Polly where she got these. That seemed nosey.)
Sure enough, we had a full house. Everyone started making condom earrings and sponge barrettes, asking questions along the way. An innocent “How does this thing work anyway?” had Polly miraculously pulling a banana out of her purse to show how a condom worked. We called the 1-800 number on the sponge box to hear exactly how you get it out if it seems stuck (and an excellent example of good customer service).
After two hours, we had discussed everything from how to use these items correctly to how to not feel pressured into doing something you didn’t want to do. (And I scored a pair of earrings myself, as you can see from the pic.)
As we closed down the jewelry-making and people headed out, I overheard someone outside the room ask a departing participant if we’d just had a sex-talk session. She said in a tone dripping with know-it-allness, “This wasn’t about sex. It was about respect.”
Amen. This was one of my first lessons in finding strategies to engage with audiences in a way that puts them at ease, especially when tackling the tough stuff. I didn’t know yet that facing communication conundrums and finding ways around them would become daily routine for me. But when I feel stuck, I think to myself, “Does jewelry have a role here?”
As you go into your three-day weekend, I encourage you to relax, recharge and get ready for fall, when it will take a ton of creative thinking to make the world a little better. Be open to the possibilities and put your imagination to good, even if unconventional, use.