Teen eagerly preaches AIDS education message

April 04, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

After attending a national "teen awareness week," Jenni L. Dorsey said she returned home to Taylorsville determined to do battle against AIDS.

"We have to talk about AIDS in our schools," said the 16-year-old South Carroll High junior. "We must educate our minds to protect our bodies. Nobody around here realizes that it could happen to them."

Jenni wrote an essay, detailing what she considered the nation's greatest problems, and won a trip to the Clearasil National Teen Summit in Ann Arbor, Mich., two months ago. The summit shifted her focus from national health care, drug abuse and teen-age violence to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, a problem she hadn't mentioned in her essay.

"I always knew what AIDS was and how to prevent it," she said. "Now, I realize there are too many people here who don't worry about it at all."

In Carroll County schools, Jenni doesn't think that there is enough emphasis on AIDS awareness.

Conference leaders made participants "aware but not scared," she said.

"They wanted to create a chain reaction, make one person think and get them to talk to friends," she said.

During the five-day seminar, the 84 participants, selected from more than 1,000 entrants, dealt with different themes and debated, Jenni said.

"I had never met a person with AIDS before," she said. "At the conference, I met a 14-year-old who had contracted the virus 10 years ago during open-heart surgery."

Joey DiPaulo, whose life is the subject of a television movie, spoke to the participants about the virus and about "Love Heals," an AIDS-activist organization that focuses on teens, a group increasingly at risk from the virus.

"Joey and Love Heals really opened my eyes and scared me in a good way," Jenni said.

She was surprised at what people her age can do on their own.

"One 14-year-old had started a homeless shelter, and a girl from Montana was tackling AIDS awareness in her hometown," she said.

With permission from her teachers, Jenni decided to address her classmates. Positive reaction from teachers and students gave her the confidence to push harder for awareness.

"Now nobody can shut me up," she said. "My friends call me 'save the world Jenni,' but they are really proud of me."

In her presentation, she stresses the importance of abstinence -- or at least, protected sex -- and AIDS testing, she said.

"She woke some people up and sparked discussions," said social studies teacher Patty Regan. "As a teacher, I want students to be aware of the threat of AIDS. It is an epidemic and we need to learn about it."

Ms. Regan said she is glad to see Jenni involved in the problems that all teens face.

Jenni also has collected about 150 signatures on a petition to "improve education and AIDS awareness in our schools."

She is organizing an AIDS walk in Carroll County for September. Her 4-H club, the Carroll County Teen Council, has offered to sponsor the fund-raising event. Proceeds would help pay for a national AIDS hot line for teens.

Lorraine Dorsey said she is proud her daughter has become involved in a cause, but a little worried about that cause.

"As a parent, I have mixed feelings about a topic that makes me nervous," she said. "AIDS is not going to go away. It is going to get worse."

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