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Opening The SAFE The condoms, birth control pills, diaphragms and staff are all in place and doors are set to swing open on The SAFE. Whistler's first ever Planned Parenthood branch and walk-in healthy sexuality centre, Sexual Awareness for Everyone, will open Tuesday March 14 on the second floor of the Whistler Health Care Centre. The SAFE will provide a wide range of confidential services to promote sexual health in Whistler including education, counselling, testing and treatment. Issues such as pregnancy, relationships, birth control, HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases are priorities at this time. The SAFE will be open every Tuesday evening from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. On Tuesday evening, the SAFE staff got together with a representative from Planned Parenthood B.C. for an information session and clinic orientation. Maureen Simpson, SAFE supervisor, says it's taken a lot of volunteer time and a effort to get the SAFE to this point. Organizers have been diligently fund-raising for months, but the cash call is still out. They raised $2,000 at a fund raiser at the Longhorn last month, but Simpson estimates it is going to take $50,000 a year to keep the SAFE open. "The only thing we have found so far is a tremendous amount of community support," Simpson says. "With 15 volunteers accepted so far and half a dozen on a waiting list, the staff is going to be very strong." In order to recover costs, Simpson says they are going to have to charge a minimal fee for dispensing birth control and covering the costs of visits from people who have no health care insurance. "We are going to be open to anyone, whether you have health care or not," she says. "People without any medical coverage were slipping through the cracks because they thought they had nowhere to turn, now they do." Of the 11 volunteers who turned up for Tuesday's orientation meeting Tim Regan was the only male face in the crowd. Regan has lived in Whistler for three years and runs a contracting firm. He put in some time at a crisis centre in London, Ont. prior to moving west and says it is important for men to feel comfortable going to the SAFE. "The high rate of STD's in Whistler applies to everyone, men and women," Regan says. "It's very important for men to have someone to identify with when they need someone to talk to." Sue Clarkson, public health nurse with the Coast Garibaldi Health Unit, has been involved with the development of the drop-in centre since the idea was born over a year and a half ago. She says the SAFE will focus all of Whistler's sexual health needs in one accessible and comfortable environment. "This place is going to fill a huge void," Clarkson says. "We have a role to play and I think we're ready to fill it and grow as the demands of the community are outlined." According to Simpson, the volunteers are very educated and the talent pool the SAFE has accessed is amazing. "The quality of the people we have is going to allow us to grow in a number of directions if the need arises," Simpson says, adding the clinic is going to focus on STD and unwanted pregnancy rates first, with plans to branch into self-esteem training and counselling.

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