Virginia Teen Uses Own Trauma as Catalyst to Educate Youth on Sex and Mental Health

Daily Point of Light # 6534 Jun 5, 2019

When she was younger, Odalis Del Cid Reyes had to live through one of the most terrifying and traumatic experiences a child could ever face. Odalis was sexually abused, and not just once, but for a long period of time. Her mental health crumpled because of it and she felt as if she was alone in her battles. However, with some professional help and her own strong determination, she overcame her depression and is now a leader in bringing sex education and mental health awareness to youth, especially in the Latino community.

Odalis, now 17, has volunteered with the Alexandria Campaign on Adolescent Pregnancy (APAC) for the past three years and facilitates workshops and events to educate teens in her community about safe sex, pregnancy, and other sex education topics. And knowing firsthand how much sex impacts mental health, she guides the teens to mental health professionals at the Teen Wellness Center.

Odalis is today’s Daily Point of Light award honoree and we spoke with her to learn more about her volunteerism with ACAP.

Describe your volunteer role with APAC.
I started volunteering in 9th grade, which is around three years ago. I started off as youth input and I was really shy at first because I didn’t know anyone there. I was really nervous, but then they started really appreciating my advice on what to do when it comes to reaching youth, especially in terms of subjects like teen pregnancy, substance abuse and things like that. We provide mostly information on sex education, but also more information about the Teen Wellness Center, which I feel the Latino community doesn’t know about. A lot of the services are free and if you want to see a therapist without your parents knowing, you can do that. In June, we’re doing community days where we’ll be reaching out to more undervalued areas in Alexandria. I’m going to be the main focal point for the Chirilagua area, which where most Latinos live. I’ll be translating a lot of the pamphlets and I’ll be connecting them to resources, but making sure that they can understand it in their native tongue.

Odalis Cid Del Rey Daily Point of Light Award Honoree 6534
Odalis receiving an award for completing over 100 hours of volunteer service/Courtesy Odalis Del Cid Reyes

Why are you so passionate about reaching the Latino community?
I feel like it’s normalized for young Latinas to be pregnant at a young age. It’s kind of seen that Latinas should be able to have a kid at a young age, support their kid, support their husband, but I don’t really agree with that. Latinas should be able to have their own opinion on what they want to do.

What about with mental health?
[Therapy] is something that Hispanics don’t seek out. It’s something that’s seen as something you shouldn’t do. My dad was in the military before I was born and he served for many years. He went through PTSD, but he was like “Oh, I don’t need a therapist. I just have God and God helps me get through it.” My mom also went through sexual assault and rape, but she also said that she didn’t need a therapist. In the Hispanic community, religion overcomes, in their perspective, trauma. So therapy and seeking someone to talk about your experiences you went through is just not advocated.

Why do you think mental health awareness is so important?
When I was younger, I went through a very traumatic experience for many years. I was sexually abused for a very long portion of my life and my mental health really crumpled around it because I wasn’t receiving that much support from my parents and I felt very alone in the situation. So I want to advocate for youth to learn more about mental health and let them know that they aren’t alone in their battles. I feel like if they hear it from my own voice, from my own experience, they’ll take advantage of it.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
Seeing people come up to me and telling me that I’m the reason they went to go see a therapist, that I’m the reason that they took the step forward to see someone about their problems. Also, when they were scared to talk about sex, they saw that I was really open to talk about it and I didn’t feel that it was such a big deal to talk about it so they took that step forward to seek help when it comes to contraceptives, STDs, birth control, things like that.

Is there a story of a person that you helped that sticks out to you?
One of my friends, she also went through some trauma as well and I’ve known her for a very long time. She asked me about the Teen Wellness Center and I told her that it was free, that your parents don’t have to know about it, that no one is going to judge you for what you tell them. Then she told me that she went to go see them and that she was really thankful that I told her about it. She told me that if I hadn’t told her, she felt that she would’ve committed suicide so I was really thankful that she told me.

What inspires you to volunteer?
My family. Although they haven’t been there for me in a lot of things I’ve been through, I feel that if I keep volunteering, I’ll be a role model for my siblings and I want to be that person they can turn to when they have questions.

What do you want people to learn from your story?
That they do have a voice in our big society. They shouldn’t be ashamed of their heritage because it’s something they should be proud of. Volunteering gives you a voice. Just push forward, volunteer and be proud of who you are.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Odalis? Click here for local volunteer opportunities.

Alicia Lee