#TransformRuralHealth: “We need to make sure youth have hope in themselves”

Alix Sandberg and CHAT team

This post is part of our Transform Rural Health campaign. Learn more, including how you can let your elected officials know that rural communities deserve the best opportunities for good health. 

Image: Alix, center, and Kristi, right, with members of the CHAT team

Alix Sandberg found a life-changing role serving his community simply because he wanted to help. Alix, a peer health educator with YWCA of Jamestown, first became connected with the organization at a community event, where he saw they needed more volunteers and offered to pitch in.

“After volunteering for about five months, they asked me to stay on as a peer educator. I really love the atmosphere and the people there,” he said. Alix, who is also a student at Jamestown Community College, works with the YWCA’s Community Health Awareness Team, or CHAT. CHAT empowers young people to make healthy decisions for their reproductive health.

“CHAT provides a comprehensive sexual and reproductive health curriculum, which is not something that is always found in rural areas,” said Kristi Ternullo, who directs the program for the YWCA of Jamestown. “Our peer health educators play such an important role. We knew we didn’t want this to be a top-down program, telling young people what we think they need. We are building trust by having the teens become actively involved.”

As a young trans person in Jamestown, Alix has seen firsthand how community resources and support are needed in this small city within a rural county. LGBTQ+ youth often face unique challenges in social determinants of health like housing, transportation, health care access, and more, in both rural and urban settings.

An unsafe home environment led Alix to seek shelter at age 16 in Chautauqua Opportunities’ Transitional Independent Living Program (TILP). TILP is an apartment-style living program for displaced youth between the ages of 16 and 21 that provides stability and resources while youth work toward independent living.

“A lot of queer youth become homeless because their home life isn’t great. TILP helps kids get on their feet again,” said Alix. “They’ll arrange transportation so you can still get to school or help you get on SNAP.”

Overall, Alix has witnessed the health disparities that face people in rural counties. “We could always use more resources. We need more support groups, more shelters. Transportation is a big issue—getting to appointments is hard. Health insurance too. Sometimes your prescription won’t be covered, or it will only cover half,” he said. “And the wait is too long for a lot of appointments. People will give up and never get help, and sometimes then they pass as a result. Care should be way more accessible.”

Still, that commitment to hope drives Alix forward as he seeks his degree in human services and social work so he can help other youth in need.

“A lot of people have struggles,” he said. “There’s a lot of poverty, homelessness, and addiction. I was a homeless youth. But there really is hope. We need to make sure youth can have hope in themselves. There are resources out there to help you.”