Who is Dr. Mary Jo?
What is an Ambassador for Respect?
In the 70s, Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski began serving young parents as a volunteer. Her work in pediatric oncology opened her eyes to the importance of living life as a servant leader; when she became a certified childbirth educator, she decided to create a separate program for teen parents. Her teen classes were fun, free, and included food! She became very popular! While pregnant with her own baby, she served as a doula (providing birth support) for a 12-year-old teen mom over a 19-hour labor. This child’s life, and the challenges she faced, made Dr. Mary Jo take the first steps to becoming the youth advocate she is today.
An Ambassador for Respect models dignified and equitable treatment for all. Over time, Dr. Mary Jo developed seven youth-serving programs, founded a Teen Outreach (in 1988) that would ultimately reach over 230,000 young people, opened the Common Ground Teen Center, presented over 800 professional workshops and trainings, and authored over 30 books. Her mission remains unchanged. Please join her in supporting every teen through education that reaches out One Kid at a Time™️.
Join Us on Our Journey of Health, Wealth and Success for our Young People!
Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s life work is serving young people and their families. She bases her numerous education programs and books on her foundational belief of #EachPersonIsAPersonofWorth. Respect for all people, her ability to listen to hear and hold space with young people, and her original, empowering, interactive, and inspiring curricula, create a safe environment for learning. She considers herself an Ambassador for Respect and models respect daily, in her professional and personal lives. Dr. Mary Jo received her RN in 1970, a BS in Education in 1975, and an MA in Counseling in 1994. She completed her doctorate in education in 2009.
Dr. Mary Jo's Primary Focus
Dr. Mary Jo’s primary focus is youth and young adult sexuality education and counseling. She initiated a growing up class for 3rd – 7th graders in 1984. She and her team of RN/Educators provided sexuality education to over 230,000 students from 1988 – 2013. During that time, the teen pregnancy rate among 15 – 17-year-olds (her target group) dropped from 36/1000 in 1989 to 12/1000 in 2012. Creating the Outreach gave Dr. Mary Jo a forum to offer respectful education.
Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is most proud of her Peer Education program (initiated in 1995). She believes an adult message is received as a whisper, but a teen’s message to a peer is heard as a shout. She trains an average of 100 new peer educators each semester. Adult/youth interaction is a foundation of her work; she empowers young people and gives them a voice. Her trained peer educators reflect her focus of respect.
At the end of one of Dr. Mary Jo’s middle school classes, she asked her students why they thought she was there. Their answers: "You think we're worth it." "Because no one else tells us the truth." "You respect us." "You want us to have good relationships." "You want us to be sexually healthy adults."
A peer educator alumnus, Jamie Barton, said: “You’re an amazing teacher/mentor/human being who wants nothing more than to help people. You ways made people feel worth it.”
Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator
Dr. Mary Jo taught her first prepared childbirth class in 1975. She became certified as a Lamaze Childbirth Educator in 1978 (the organization was called ASPO/Lamaze then). Concurrent to her professional childbirth classes, Dr. Mary Jo began teaching pregnant teens as a volunteer. She noticed that pregnant teens were often treated differently than older expectant parents – with less respect. She was determined to render the same respect to these teens afforded adult women in labor. She continued her service to young parents from 1976 to 1996, when she received funding and hired staff to assist her.
Dr. Mary Jo is acknowledged as an expert in teen pregnancy education for both birth and parenting. She and her team provide educational mentoring to young parents in three counties; in 2016, 28 teen parents in her program were eligible to graduate, and 28 completed high school.
Dr. Mary Jo maintains contact with young parents for years; she does not close client cases and is available to young parents 24/7, 365 days a year. She is the author of Real Talk for Real Teen Parents, and is a frequent presenter and professional trainer on adolescent pregnancy and parenting. Training professionals to respect teens is one of her long-term goals.
Dr. Mary Jo maintains her certification with Lamaze International. She is a Fellow in the American College of Childbirth Education, was elected to the Lamaze International Board of Directors in the 90s and served as their president from 1997 – 1999. In 2016 she created the Lamaze International parent e-learning module on Sex and Pregnancy
She holds the following certifications: AASECT Certified in Sexuality Education and Sexuality Counseling: AASECT (American Association for Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists), offers certification as a sexuality educator, counselor or therapist. Professional certification by AASECT demonstrating to all that stringent requirements for training and experience have been met. Dr. Mary Jo taught her first sexuality education in 1981; she began offering sexuality counseling in 1988, the year she founded the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She pursued AASECT certification because it’s philosophy reflects her focus of respect. Respecting people’s sexuality and their need for education echoes through AASECT.
Olweus Bullying Prevention Program Certified Trainer
The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is a comprehensive approach that includes schoolwide, classroom, individual, and community components. The program is focused on long-term change that creates a safe and positive school climate. It is designed and evaluated for use in elementary, middle, junior high and high schools (K-12). The program’s goals are to reduce and prevent bullying problems among schoolchildren and to improve peer relations at school. The program has been found to reduce bullying among students, improve the social climate of classrooms, and reduce related antisocial behaviors, such as vandalism and truancy. The Olweus Program has been implemented in more than a dozen countries around the world, and in thousands of schools in the United States.
As a certified Olweus Bullying Prevention Program trainer, Dr. Mary Jo has initiated the Olweus Program in six schools, providing systemic, inclusive training that involves parents, students, teachers, administrators, and all school personnel, from bus drivers and cafeteria staff to the superintendent. Bullying prevention is based on respect for all people; modeling respect and empathy prevents bullying.
Dr. Mary Jo’s strength is holding space, listening to, respecting and empowering young people. She places teens on all her boards, from an Adolescent Advisory Board, to an Executive Board for the Common Ground Teen Center she direct. Using those skills, she brings a unique approach to bullying prevention, involving young voices and opinions from the start, and employing peer education to bullying prevention.
Darkness to Light Stewards of Children Authorized Facilitator
A Darkness to Light Authorized Facilitator is an individual who has been trained by Darkness to Light to deliver the Stewards of Children® training program to adults in their organization or community. Facilitators model the core principals of Stewards of Children® in their community by talking openly about child sexual abuse and engaging adults in discussion.
Dr. Mary Jo served her first young child abuse survivor as a young nurse at Children’s Hospital in the early 70s.She is passionate about child abuse prevention, and believes a two-pronged approach is best. She became an authorized facilitator with Darkness to Light because she knows children are not the power in an abuse situation. Sexual involvement with an adult and a young person is an unequal power relationship. Dr. Mary Jo hopes to teach adults to recognize the signs of abuse and gear up to prevent it.
Dr. Mary Jo is also the author of a child abuse prevention program for children. Called Inside Out: Your Body is Amazing Inside and Out and Belongs ONLY to You, the program targets children in grades 1 – 4 by teaching 7 Big Lessons through interactive learning activities. Inside Out is available as an interactive coloring book for children and adults. Respect for children’s privacy is vital; teaching little ones to ‘own’ their own bodies and have self-respect can offer healing to abuse survivors and empower children to disclose if approached by a predator.