For one very special day each summer, Montreal’s energetic food & beverage service industry community gets together and hangs up their aprons, taking a break from bussing, pouring and balancing hot plates full of your dinner, in order to serve up some fierce beach volleyball action instead, and all for a good cause.
This Sunday, July 27, marks the ninth annual Serve! Beach Volleyball Tournament, in which staff from 29 local restaurants, bars and cafés will square off against each other to raise funds for Head & Hands’ sex-ed program, the Sense Project. The public is invited to come out and participate in the festivities by taking in some high-powered volleyball action, enjoying the beer and food tents, and playing games like sex-ed relay races. Sense Project animators will be on site, available to answer your most pressing sexual health queries.
To learn more about the day-long event and the Sense Project it supports, I got in touch with Victoria Pilger, the funding and partnerships coordinator for Head & Hands. Her excitement about the tournament was infectious, describing the event as “basically a magical day of community love” where the simple act of enjoying a cold beer in the park on a summery day helps to ensure that youths in Montreal can benefit from peer-delivered sex-ed that is comprehensive, holistic, sex-positive and queer- and trans*-positive.
Pilger explains that after education system reforms were implemented in 2005, sex-ed classes were cut from high school curriculums. The Sense Project was established to fill the gap to ensure that youths have access to the tools and information they need to make healthy, informed choices about their sexual expression. The project operates by staging workshops in high schools, community centres, group homes and anyplace where young people can be found. The program is delivered by young adult “near-peers” (aged 25 and under), who receive extensive training in topics like safer-sex strategies, gender identity and sexual diversity, healthy-relationship building and consent.
Pilger is clear about the value such a program offers to young people, and to the community at large: “When we ensure that the youth in our community have access to honest, non-judgmental and comprehensive information about their sexual health, that’s basically giving them the tools they need to make healthier choices, and ultimately that means creating healthier communities for all of us. This means so many things: it means a reduced risk of contracting STI’s or HIV, it means fewer unplanned pregnancies, and it also means things like healthier relationships. For example, it helps for people to know how to identify the red flags of an unhealthy relationship. Those who have gone to a Sense workshop are also more aware of sexual diversity, different gender identities and what gender is, which is something that wouldn’t necessarily have been included in your average sex-ed class in high school.”
The Sense Project is a major pillar of Head & Hands’ mandate, and the Serve! Tournament is one of its most important sources of funding. The relationship between the Sense Project and the food-and-beverage service industry is a natural fit, considering the youthful nature of the server community, and the reality that their places of business are often arenas for real-life navigation of gender and sexual identity and expression.
Pilger is enthusiastic when she describes the year-round support the Sense Project receives from many of the local establishments who will be participating Sunday, such as Irish Embassy, Grumpy’s and Lola Rosa, as well as other year-round initiatives like Faggity Ass Fridays.
“All the funds raised directly support the Sense Project, specifically recruiting and training our animators. It’s 30 hours of training, so it’s pretty intense. It also funds workshop materials like the Sense Project manual, which we’re in the process of updating and revising this summer. It’s a huge manual that we print and publish and make available to youths, and that we use to train our animators. We also have things like these beautiful vagina puppets, labia puppets and beautiful wooden dildos for condom demonstrations. [The funding supports] things like that.
“It’s a great day in the park. You have a beer, and you’ll know that at the same time that you’re hanging out, you’re actually helping to ensure that Montreal youth gets the sex-ed that they deserve. It’s such an easy way to come out and support something!” ■
The Serve! Tournament takes place at the Parc Jeanne-Mance volleyball courts (Parc Ave. btwn Mont-Royal & Rachel) on Sunday, July 27, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Tomorrow’s weather forecast is not looking good — keep an eye on the Serve Facebook event page for updates.) Donations to support the Sense Project can be made in person at the event, or online here.
If you’re 25 and under and interested in becoming a Sense Project Animator, you’re invited to apply here until Aug. 12.