by Amber Clontz
We live in a conservative state during conservative times. With women's reproductive rights coming under constant attack, it’s refreshing to see a fun, family-oriented event like A.L.P.H.A.’s Kittens to Cougars event on March 11.
The event kicked off with a "Kittens" portion from 3:30-5 p.m., which invited girls ages 11 and older and moms to participate in an "array of fun and educational lifestyle activities," including age-appropriate sexual health trivia, face painting and an HIV and AIDS Awareness art contest. Then from 5-7 p.m., the kids moved next door and the "Cougar" event began.
Autumn Kersey had a wreath of red tickets around her neck that she ripped off and handed out to kiddos painting T-shirts and learning a hip-hop dance at Boise Cafe.
“It’s kind of like Pojo’s,” Kersey joked. “The girls can use them to win prizes.”
Boise organizations like the Discovery Center, The Flicks, Bogus Basin, Roaring Springs, Boise Contemporary Theater and Boise Little Theater all donated items for the drawings.
The tweens kept busy next door while moms got their giggle on at A.L.P.H.A. during the "Cougars" portion of the evening. There was a nutritionist with an “eat this, not that” guessing game, a skin-care specialist and a Melting Pot fondue buffet. Between antique school desks and shelves of records for sale, there was a condom demonstration and sex toy inventory for the curious.
Boise State student Elmira Bakhshinyan first volunteered at A.L.P.H.A. during a service-learning class and has stayed on ever since. Originally from Armenia, Bakhshinyan said sexually transmitted diseases are not discussed in her country and that Idaho is similarly conservative in that regard.
“I was surprised that in the United States people were just as scared to talk about HIV,” Bakhshinyan told BW.
A.L.P.H.A. has been helping to start this discussion since 2003. The nonprofit's headquarters at 213 N. 10th St. has grown from a testing and information center to a full-on thrift store heaven.
With racks of vintage gowns, heels and fur accessories, it was easy to see the dress-up appeal for teens.
“Look, Mom, this is so Rachel,” one girl cried out, referring a TV character.
“She’s all about the outfits in Glee,” mother Michelle Cooley explained.
Cooley said the media contributes to young girls growing up too quickly.
“The most risque thing we ever saw on TV was kissing in a gum commercial,” she cracked.
But nonetheless, Cooley understands the constant battles faced by her daughters' generation.
“Kids are doing things in sixth, seventh and eighth grade that we didn’t know existed until senior year of high school,” said Cooley.
Cooley said the pros for exposing her daughters to sex education events like Kittens to Cougars outweigh the nonexistent cons.
“My oldest daughter says, 'Mom, don’t worry. I won’t get any of that stuff.'” Cooley smiled and gathered her girls for the announcement of raffle prizes.