The group, Central Illinois Friends, began in 1990 thanks in part to local citizens worried about the reactions and answers to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Today, the organization, which Deric Kimler is executive director of, is focused on STD testing and prevention, as well as sex education. They also make treatment referrals for the 16 counties they serve in the central part of the state.
In the beginning, the organization was focused on three high schools in the Peoria area, where 22 percent of the sexually-active teens were diagnosed with some type of STD. That number has dropped to six percent.
Kimler said the organization works alongside the Hult Center for Healthy Living to offer sex education for the 150 7th grade students in the Peoria Public Schools District. He said the earlier education may be helping to decrease the numbers.
He said youth lives have been changed because they are given 100 percent free testing and sex education to help them understand the dangers sex can have.
According to information from the Peoria City/County Health Department, STD rates were the highest in the county for people ages 15 to 29 years old in 2017 with chlamydia and gonorrhea rates up to three times higher than anywhere else in the state.
Kimler said information isn’t collected for other STDs such as herpes, HPV and trichomoniasis.
He said the high rates are the result of the stigma tied to sex discussions, but safe sex isn’t something that needs to be feared and must be addressed.
Kimler said people come together to have sex, and adults need to talk about it to stem the crisis.
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