Grantee Spotlight from Virginia

Agility is Key in Creating Sexual Health Education Interventions


Portrait of Jess Balac

This spotlight was developed by Jess Balac, Program Coordinator at James Madison University (JMU), in collaboration with the RHNTC. JMU houses SexEdVA, a TPP20 Innovation and Impact Network project that facilitates the Disability-inclusive Sexual Health Network (DSHN) as well as other work to support adolescent sexual health.

Our overall aim is to connect youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities to comprehensive sexual health education. We have 11 network partners that are developing 11 different interventions—testing and trying out lots of different things in their communities throughout the state. 

We’ve worked hard to maintain relationships with partners to keep things moving—but without being overly restrictive and knowing when to step in and help. That’s always a tough balance.

Many of our partners are small organizations. Some of them had never really focused on sexual health. At first, all of this was new. It can take a long time to develop an idea, take stock of existing resources, and build new relationships in the community.

We're in our third year and now our partners can do more creative problem solving. When they first started, there was this sense that they had to stick to their original idea. There was a reluctance to let go of things that weren’t serving them anymore. Now, they’re no longer stuck and can let go of ideas that don’t work. They're better able to remain fluid, adapt, be creative, and reformat their idea—to achieve what they set out to do and also serve the needs of their organization and the network.

I’ve learned how to sit with a lot of problems, barriers, or frustrations. Now I do a fairly good job of being able to say, “Okay, we’re not going to stay stuck here. We’re going to find a solution through this. Let’s bounce ideas off of each other and bring people together in a way that stays focused on problem solving.”

I've learned from the relationships where I've experienced a lot of pushback—they call you to rely on the best of your skills, and to develop even better skills. Just because I’m uncomfortable doesn’t mean it's a bad decision for the network.

Be clear about what your goal is but, for everything else around that, stay as fluid and open as possible and think creatively. When you map it all out on paper, you have the perfect plan. But many things will end up looking different from when you originally set it out. When the rubber meets the road, it’s just different.

                    —Jess Balac, James Madison University

Copyright Jess Balac, distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license