Safe Havynn teaches life skills, sexual health to instill purpose
Inside an unassuming green storefront on Jefferson Street in Lafayette several teenagers sit in plush blue armchairs on a Friday in June, discussing everything from personality types to sexual health.
The goal behind these conversations is to equip young people in Louisiana with medically accurate and researched information, so they can make healthy choices and build brighter futures. This is the mission of Safe Havynn Education Center, a grant-funded nonprofit that focuses on teaching life skills and sexual risk avoidance.
The students in armchairs Friday are taking part in the Kickback, the organization’s two-day conference-style workshops that incorporates lessons on self-esteem, communication, setting goals and boundaries, financial literacy and more.
“These are skills that are just essential for your well-being,” said Arial Moore, Safe Havynn founder and executive director. “People assume you’ll gain these skills in high school or college, but you don’t.”
Purpose: Create a safe space to talk
Moore, 32, knows that firsthand. After she completed her master’s in human resources and research development, she found herself behind a desk all day for work and miserable.
That got her thinking about what really mattered to her and those foundational skills she felt she still lacked.
“I truly had to investigate my purpose, why I’m here on this earth,” she said. “That led me to talk about important things we don’t talk about.”
A sexual assault survivor, Moore also is passionate about providing accurate information regarding sexual health — what she wished she had known at their age.
“Arial, her heart is to create a safe place to have these conversations freely, so they don’t get their information from TikTok,” said Courtney Celestine, director of marketing and outreach. “We focus on people’s whole self. Sexual health is part of who you are.”
It’s a topic Moore has studied since undergrad at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and then at Widener University in Pennsylvania, where she earned a master’s in human sexuality before moving back to Acadiana in 2018.
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She’s currently pursuing a doctor of philosophy in human sexuality studies online through the same private university to inform her teaching and eradicate stigma that often surrounds these kinds of conversations.
“I was slightly ashamed of being an expert in this,” Moore said. “There is a shame about learning about sex and your body. I wanted to change that. And a lot of people have questions and don’t know where to go for information.”
The sexual health lessons cover sexually transmitted infections , abstinence, contraception and consent, and combined with the other life skills like goal-setting and self-esteem, these make Safe Havynn a pregnancy prevention center.
‘Know better, be better, do better’
Writing out goals also acts as a buffer to teen pregnancy by encouraging young people to think long-term, Moore explained.
The organization receives two federal Sexual Risk Avoidance Education Grants aimed at reaching ages 13-19 across the state. Their goal is to teach 850 teens per year, Celestine said.
Louisiana has the third-highest teen pregnancy rate in the U.S., behind Mississippi and Arkansas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and ranks among the highest in sexually transmitted infections .
A bulk of STI cases tend to be found in Safe Havynn’s targeted age range. Almost half of new cases in the U.S. in 2018 were among youth ages 15-24, according to the CDC.
“Growing up we’re taught we can’t talk about these things, but I’ve met so many people with STIs or who are teen moms because of a lack of information,” Celestine said. “Our motto is ‘know better, be better, do better.'”
Moore began this work in 2015 through a small side practice, but being stuck at home during the pandemic finally pushed her to grow it and incorporate Safe Havynn Education Center as a 501c3 nonprofit.
The Lacassine native now leads a team of about 10 women, and they partner with other youth-focused organizations and put on Kickbacks across the state. Sometimes they host events at their headquarters in downtown Lafayette, and other times they travel to meet kids where they are.
“We want to be accessible for the populations we serve,” Celestine said.
For Moore, it all comes back to purpose and mission, which she put right in the name. Her focus is creating create a safe haven where young people feel comfortable enough to ask questions. Some of the teens who come to her center have been through hard life experiences, she said, like sexual assault, trafficking or homelessness.
“It’s really important for us to be trauma-informed and create a safe space for people to get accurate information with care and concern,” Moore said.
“We affirm all belief systems. This is information, not instruction. We don’t influence values. We let families instill morals and values.”