On many levels, the Our Whole Lives (OWL) program thrives in the eyes of Del Hokanson.
From kindergartners through adults –– including grade groupings for K/1, 5/6, 8/9 and 10/12 –– the comprehensive sexuality-education program is designed to serve everyone.
The director of children’s ministry at First Congregational UCC in Colorado Springs, Colo., Hokanson shepherded 19 8th- and 9th-graders – including five non-UCC members – through Our Whole Lives in April. The program is a collaborative effort between the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Church.
“We also have a K/1 and a 5/6 program that have run four times,” said Hokanson. “They alternate years with the 8/9 group so kids can catch the program all the way through their developmental maturation.”
The 11/12 program has been presented twice at First Congregational, said Hokanson, and a college-level, young-adult program has been offered once. “Our goal is to have an adult program ready to go in the next few years,” she said.
As a parent of two daughters, Hokanson is all about OWL – a program that epitomizes the UCC tenet of “listen, evangelize and inspire.” The resources, written by professional sexuality educators, provide accurate information for parents, teachers and pastors to be used in the affirming and supportive setting of our churches.
Frustrated by the ineffectiveness of the health curricula she taught to middle- and high-schoolers in Australia, Hokanson said a resource such as Our Whole Lives could have helped her immeasurably as a teenager.
“It allows me to fully engage my personal life discovery of how closely aligned my sexual journey has been with my spiritual journey,” she said. “To me, the beauty of the program is the elevation of ‘wholeness’ and ‘beauty’ of sexuality as a God-given privilege.”
“For me, it was prime in my discovery of my personal God,” said Hokanson. “Having taught it five times in 10 years, I see even more how significant and impactful this program has been. It also really fits the value systems of this church.”
Prior to leading OWL groups, Hokanson served as a program volunteer for 10 years. She credits trainer Lynn Young with “lighting the fire in our church” in 1999 that brought Our Whole Lives to the fore.
“She is a huge advocate for OWL that rubs off onto many,” said Hokanson of Young, who has presented training programs nationally. “We are also fortunate to have a very supportive, young lead minister, Ben Broadbent, and a council/congregation who are deeply behind the program.”
Each program session concludes with a retreat at which participants, their parents and facilitators provide feedback. Included is youth “before” and “after” testimony regarding their individual OWL experiences.
Among the feedback from the April group:
Before: “I was scared of sex and who I was or how to express myself.”
After: “Now I see both sex and myself as beautiful, and I am more open about my thoughts on life and sex.”
Before: “I used to think talking about sexuality was awkward.”
After: “Now I realize it is normal.”
Before: “I didn’t know who I am and couldn’t say ‘no!’”
After: “Now I know who I am. I am ME. And now I have a voice, and I can say ‘NO!’”
“I loved working with teens,” said Hokanson. “The group actually becomes the program as the year progresses, and to witness their cynicism melting is truly a gift.”