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NNY youth promoting conversation with adults about personal issues

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To unzip is to expose.

That is what ACR Health youth advisory board members from Northern New York hope to express with their “Zipper Campaign: We Know You’re in There.” Unveiled during Sunday’s First Frost AIDS 5k Walk/Run in Thompson Park, the campaign features 10 photographs of local youths who appear to be becoming unzipped to issues they want to talk about, but adults may be uncomfortable with.

“If we’re putting it in front of them, they might bring (issues) to their parents,” said Makaela R. Murdock, youth advisory board member and a member of the Indian River Central School District Teen AIDS Task Force. “A more open (culture) would be good.”

She said the 10 models in the photographs, who had makeup, hair and the picture itself done by Muranda M. Johnson, of M’s Studio, Watertown, selected a topic they either were passionate about or had been personally involved with. Topics included race/ethnicity, diversity and acceptance, self-injury, homelessness, hunger, nontraditional families and homes, mental health, suicide, depression, sexual assault, domestic violence, bullying, self-esteem, eating disorders, drugs and alcohol, sex, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth culture. Some photographs represented a combination of topics.

Each photograph also was paired with local and national resources for youths to bring to adults to help start a discussion on those issues. Photograph frames were donated by Timeless Frames.

Sixteen-year-old Carter J. Kerry, also a youth advisory board and Indian River Central task force member, said initiating a conversation with an adult about one of the aforementioned issues is like unzipping to “open up to show the inside” of youth.

“It’s also not judging a book by its cover,” said Makaela, 17.

Both she and Carter are officers of their school’s Gay-Straight Alliance.

Carter wants the zipper campaign to reach far beyond the north country, but he said it first will become a traveling exhibit to local schools or community events. People interested in having the exhibit come to their function or facility can call Angela Foster, ACR Health regional youth services coordinator, at 386-4493, ext. 151.

“This has been a year in the making,” she said. “The young people were talking about how there’s a lot of topics they feel they are not prepared for because adults don’t want to talk about them.”

That is something ACR Health as a whole has been trying to change.

“Here’s the thing: it’s hard for people to hear ‘teen sex,’” said Jacki C. Coe, ACR Health development associate. “The thing much worse than that is teen HIV. Kids put more protection on their phones than themselves. I think that can change with more education for teens and adults.”

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