Emmaus Blog

#IAmEmmaus: Christina from YWCA

Emmaus Homes - Tuesday, October 16, 2018
Christina Meneses, Education Supervisor
How long have you been an instructor with SHADE/YWCA?
I’ve been teaching with our SHADE (Sexual Health and Disability Education) program for 5 years. Before that, I worked here for 14ish years doing community and school presentations on sexual violence prevention.
What are the goals for your class?
When it comes to teaching about healthy relationships and healthy sexuality to folks with disabilities, I frame our work as supporting freedom from harassment, abuse, and exploitation, and freedom to have meaningful, healthy romantic and/or sexual lives. While we initially got into this work as a component of preventing sexual abuse, we now see that our classes also support basic needs and rights of folks with disabilities.
What do individuals with disabilities get from your class?
You’d have to ask them! I hope what they get is an open environment in which they could learn and share information about relationships, sexuality, and dating. As a society, we don’t have a lot of judgment-free places where folks can share and learn and get medically-accurate information about these topics. Once people have this information, I hope they use it to strengthen their current relationships, pursue new relationships, set and respect boundaries, keep themselves and others safer, and find greater pleasure and happiness.
Have any of your students surprised or inspired you in any way?
I feel so privileged when students share the joy and messiness of their own lives when it comes to dating and sexuality. In our classes at Emmaus, we had some fun and important conversations about relationship structures, expectations, and fairness. I think sometimes people with disabilities aren't expected to be in relationships, or the relationships they're in are assumed to be drama-free and “innocent,” whatever that means. SHADE students remind me that people often are stumbling/skipping along in the hot mess that is relationships with or without guidance from others, and they have a lot of life wisdom.
What do you like most about teaching this class?
I love watching how students start feeling more comfortable talking about sexuality over the course of the class. While we never ask or pressure students to share their own personal stories, over time many do, and we can see many of them relating this information to the relationships and encounters they currently have or have had in the past. I like to finish a class knowing that folks see sexuality as something that can be discussed, and that doing so will increase their likelihood of getting the good stuff and minimizing the bad stuff.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the overall program of SHADE/YWCA?
SHADE offers individual and small group classes on healthy relationships and sexuality to individuals with developmental disabilities. The curriculum we use as a base has 10 sessions, although we can do more or less depending on the needs/goals of the students. We can offer classes at our offices on Saint Louis University’s campus; at outside agencies; at schools; at public spaces like libraries – anywhere except the student’s own home. Support from the Productive Living Board in St. Louis County, the Office of Developmental Disabilities in St. Louis City, and the Kaufmann Foundation, mean that we can offer the class at no cost to eligible students.
People can learn more about our program by contacting us at (314)531-1115, or emailing me at cmeneses@ywcastlouis.org.


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