Shannon Wendt
Prevention Services Director
LifeChoices’ Virtuous Reality program, Southwest Missouri

“LifeChoices is a crisis pregnancy center, and it hired me in April 1997 because the question came up: ‘We do such a good job with the girls who ‘jump off the cliff,’ what could we have told them before they get here?’ We needed to build a strong fence to prevent them from taking a running leap off that cliff. I investigated five or six programs, and by June we were using Choosing the Best PATH and Choosing the Best LIFE.

“We see about 6,000 students a year in 21 school districts. In every one we have to restructure what they consider romance. We tell them it’s a guy who is interested in a girl’s brain and dreams, not just her body, and we have 45 seconds to make 8th graders like us. It works, because they introduce their parents to us in the mall. Choosing the Best teaches a future orientation rather than living for the moment. Once they understand ‘I’m worth waiting for,’ they want abstinence.”

When Shannon Wendt is not working as Prevention Services Director for LifeChoices’ Virtuous Reality program, she teaches speech at Missouri Southern State College. Her two worlds intersect in valuable ways.

“My seventh-graders are in my freshmen class now,” she reports. “‘ You’re the sex lady! I remember you,’ they tell me. As college students, they are my perpetual test market.

“I like Choosing the Best because it is always up to date,” Shannon says. “ The curriculum needs to be completely savvy to pass ‘the cheese factor.’ For example, when Choosing the Best updated its questions from, ‘What would you say in a party?’ to ‘What would you say in a chat room?’ —that is something students can embrace.”

LifeChoices customizes the Choosing the Best programs to each location for maximum effectiveness.

“All of our school districts are really different,” explains Shannon. “Some schools have their own gun racks, and others are ‘sweetie’ schools. Each has its own flavor. You have to ask yourself, ‘What is the assumption here?’ Our presenters are ‘bilingual’—you have to know your audience. That is important, even more so than your message.”

Shannon thinks it is even more crucial to reach parents.

“I’d rather have a roomful of the parents of eighth-graders, than the 8th-graders themselves,” she declares. “My daughters’ friends hear so many legends at school: Take three birth control pills the next morning. You can’t get pregnant standing up, or, the food coloring in Mountain Dew and Surge will protect you. Some even use saran wrap for condoms.

“I ask parents, ‘How do you talk with your kids about sex?’ People come in droves. I tell them, ‘You have to do it, and you have to do it more than once. You better teach before you unteach.’

“One mom stopped me in the mall, gave me a double handshake, and thanked me for the discussion assignments. ‘I’m your milk-and-cookies, after-school Mom,’ she told me, ‘but I did not know how to get started on this issue. But your questions were so easy, that now we’ve built a bridge.’”