Janet Hagen, Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Oshkosh Wisconsin, USA
Wise Woman Gathering Place (WWGP), 2488 Babcock Avenue, Green Bay, Wisconsin 54313 is a nonprofit, community-based organization. Its name is derived from its Native American founder, Alice Skenandore, a midwife. According to the WWGP website (wisewomengp.org) midwives historically have been known as the wise women of the community. People came to them for birth, for healing, for counsel and for death.
WWGP which started with midwifery as its main focus and still maintains that component, but as the community has asked more of the women, they have expanded their repertoire of skills and services. The current focus is to “provide a safe place for people to access resources and information about childbirth, alternative holistic health methods, and other family life challenges. ” An important part of the resources is a relationship discernment curriculum called “Discovery Dating” which is useful to people all ages, but is particularly useful to teens who, in this culture, are bombarded with messages encouraging sexual experiences at a very young age. Discovery Dating uses a variety of methods to strengthen relationship development skills, make informed choices, become aware of abstinence as a valid life choice before marriage, learn to identify risky behaviors, understand the importance of mentors and believe in themselves and their futures.
Discovery Dating was used as part of a larger curriculum in the C-BAC program funded by the Department of Health and Human Services. Beginning in the academic year 2002 a community based non-profit organization provided a full-year abstinence program to all 8th grade students at a rural tribal school. This was done for a new group of 8th graders every year for five years. At the end of the 5 years all students were surveyed along with a comparison group. The comparison group was comprised of students in the same community who attended a different, public, middle school, but the same public high school. All students had a similar age, socioeconomic status, culture and ethnicity were similar. Students who received abstinence education (treatment group) had fewer pregnancies than the students who did not receive abstinence education (comparison group). The students who received abstinence education (treatment group) also reported later onset of sexual initiation than the students who did not receive abstinence education (comparison group). Of those who reported that they were sexually active, the students who received abstinence education (treatment group) reported fewer partners and higher condom use than the students who did not receive abstinence education (comparison group). Additionally, the tribal health care agency provided information on pregnancies. Students who received abstinence education (treatment group) had fewer pregnancies than the students who did not receive abstinence education (comparison group). In fact, the number of pregnancies were reduced by more than 50% pretreatment.
Wise Women Gathering Place was born of the vision of one woman, Alice Skenandore, who saw the need for women to empower themselves through taking back the essential power of women – childbirth. Though threatened with legal action, scorned by some, and chronically underfunded she nonetheless stuck to her grass roots organizing which one day lead to recognition by the Ford Foundation which sought her out (She didn’t apply! In fact she though she was attending their meeting to teach them more about midwifery). Ford ultimately provided her with seed money for Wise Woman Gathering Place. Since then many men and women of the community have contributed their wisdom, time, resources and energy to help this nonprofit grow and develop as it meets the current and changing needs of its community.