Wednesday, December 16, 2009

But What Can I Do?

I work with a group of 5th grade girls at my church. We meet every Wednesday evening for group time with all of our first through sixth graders where we sing, dance, and have a great time before heading out to our individual small groups by grades. My group is probably fairly typical of any smattering of 5th grade girls in the nation – boisterous and energetic, from various socioeconomic situations; some with both biological parents still together, but many are part of a blended or single-parent family. Some of the girls love Taylor Swift and Hannah Montana and aren’t altogether sure what they think about boys.  Some love sports or school or baking Christmas cookies with mom and still carry a stuffed animal with them everywhere they go. Some are aspiring fashionistas with highlighted ponytails while others wear the same hand-me-down hooded sweatshirt or ripped jeans week after week.

Despite all of their differences, however, there’s one thing I’ve noticed all of these girls have in common. They all crave attention. Early on when starting to work with this group, I decided to go around the room during a craft activity to talk one-on-one with each girl. I’d never seen eyes light up the way they did when I took a couple of minutes to ask each one individually about herself  – what she likes or doesn’t like, what scares her, what makes her happiest. Since that one evening, the girls make a point to come over and talk whenever they see me anywhere. While I’d like to think that’s because I’m pretty amazing, I’m smart enough to realize that it’s simply because I gave them the one thing they needed and desired – someone to take an interest in them.

In the work we do at the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, there are many stories we hear of young girls who got pregnant because the first person to show attention to them was interested in more than just what their goals and dreams for the future were.  Since that first Wednesday night when I pulled up a chair to sit next to each anxious 5th grader, I can’t seem to get that thought out of my head. Add to that the endless asks we get this time of year from charities of all kinds needing donations to help those less-fortunate than ourselves and I have to wonder – what are we really willing to do to make a difference in the world around us? Are we willing to write a check or drop some coins into a kettle? Are we willing to pull up a chair, get our hands dirty, and make a true investment in the lives of young people? Are we willing to be the one who will shower healthy affection and positive attention on kids who desperately need it?

I must say, it’s not easy. We get busy. We get sick. We get distracted. We mess up and have to explain to someone who we didn’t realize was paying so much attention how she should do differently.  But we still need to make the commitment to be a mentor, even in the broadest definition of the word, to at least one young person – whether your own child, your niece or nephew, a neighbor from down the street, or a group of kids at church. Because at this time of the year especially, I am always reminded that one person can make a difference.  

by: Dana Becker, Technical Assistance Specialist, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
Contact Dana:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What Would You Do With Fame?

Fifteen minutes! That is the amount of fame that we are told to expect in life. Not that much when you stretch it out over the course of many years. But what are you going to do with those precious minutes?
Over the past few weeks we have seen the results of so many who have chosen to use their fame for, shall we say, less than sterling exploits. The sexual escapades of athletes, movie stars, “people who to be honest I really don’t know what they do except show up on magazine racks” have become the fodder of news articles.

Recently South Carolina joined that list—again. A recent winner of a beauty pageant, who had become a YouTube star, re-appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel show in a segment entitled, “Where Do Babies Come From?” On one front it was funny late-night fare, but on a much deeper level it was terribly disturbing. From interviews with people on the street to the “Octomom” the punch line was that our teens—specifically SC teens—have no idea where babies come from.

The tragedy is that for far too many that is the case. The recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed that 24% of middle school students have had sexual intercourse—yet how many of them have had sex education? How many of them have had a conversation with a parent? How many of them are getting their education from videos, movies, media stars?
But what really disturbed me was that one of our own would exploit that tragedy for another 15 minutes of fame!

Fortunately that is not always the case! While she would never proclaim this fact herself, Erica Powell, a former Miss South Carolina chose to use her platform to make a difference. Throughout her tenure she worked with staff members from the SC Campaign to inform teens how making responsible decisions about sexuality opens opportunities for their future. Rather than pretending to be a space cadet, this Furman graduate gave our youth a picture of a responsible young adult. And her commitment didn’t end with her reign as Miss SC. Since that time she has served on the board of the SC Campaign, offering insight and wisdom as this organization seeks to make a difference in the future of our youngest citizens.

At a time when fame has been used as a springboard to show off the worst of behavior, it is refreshing to see someone use an opportunity to do something good. Erica, thank you for what you continue to give to our state! Perhaps as adults we should take a lesson!

By: Rev. Don Flowers, Immediate Past Board Chair and Pastor of Providence Baptist Church
Contact Don:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Taking a Closer Look

During the last decade, teen pregnancy rates in South Carolina and across the country have decreased substantially. While encouraging and certainly a clear indication that progress can be made on this critically important issue, not all of the news is good.

Between 1997 and 2007 rates of teen pregnancy in South Carolina decreased by 14%. However, during that time, we see two separate stories. Between 1997 and 2003 rates of teen pregnancy decreased 22%, while between 2004 and 2007 rates have actually increased 10%. A closer examination across teen demographics reveals a complex, yet critically important story. During the last decade teen pregnancy rates among older youth increased while rates among younger youth decreased. Rates of teen pregnancy for 15-17 year old youth are the lowest they have even been while rates of teen pregnancy among older youth are higher than they have been since 2000. Tremendous progress has been made over the last decade in reducing the rate of teen pregnancy of African American teens, but stark disparities between White and African American teen pregnancy rates persist.

When we ask ourselves about the story behind the data, we are always left with more questions than answers. However, we do know some things. 1) Younger youth are the target of most teen pregnancy prevention efforts. The most striking progress has been made with these younger teens. Even though older teen pregnancies make up more than 2/3 of all teen pregnancies, they have not received a lot of attention. 2) As in the case in many health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and asthma, there are striking racial disparities in teen pregnancy rates. 3) South Carolina Youth Risk Behavior Survey data for 2007 indicates that progress has slowed in reducing the percent of youth who have had sex. At the same time, condom use among sexually active teens has declined for the first time since 1991, the first year in which data are available. 4) In addition, many programs targeting youth have been cut or eliminated. These four points do not completely explain the recent teen pregnancy data trends, but provide some context for understanding the story behind the data.

Now is the time for us to build on what works by reinvesting in programs that have been shown to be successful for younger youth. We are fortunate to have solid evidence to identify effective programs for school-age youth. However, we need to refocus our efforts on older youth by engaging with non-traditional partners, such as community colleges and adult education programs. Older youth are more likely to be sexually active and need to have access to affordable contraception services and family planning clinics and public health agencies will be important partners when working with 18-19 year olds.

I’d love to hear from you! What this new data mean to you? What do you think we should do to prevent teen pregnancies? Please feel free to post your comments below

by: Shannon Flynn, Director of Research and Evaluation, SC Campaign
Contact Shannon:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bloodsucking Vamps and Onscreen Love

Another Halloween season has passed us and the holiday season is fast approaching!  Most people are making plans for Thanksgiving and being with friends and family.  But there is one date that seems to be more important to most teen girls this season, and that date is November 20th, 2009.  You may ask yourself “Why this date?” or “Why this random Friday?”  November 20th is the day that tweens and teens alike have been waiting for, the day when New Moon, the second installment of the Twilight Saga, will become open to the public.  

After one year of waiting as patiently as teens can, the wait is finally over, and on the screen Bella Swan and Edward Cullen will continue their fantasy romance under the watchful eyes of hundreds of thousands of young people.

What does the release of a movie have to do with teen pregnancy?  It is related because young people today are more emotionally connected to media than any other source, and that means that media has a larger influence over our young people and how they examine and value relationships around them.
The Twilight Saga is about young “love” or young “obsession” and revolves around Bella, a junior in high school and her love and devotion to her boyfriend who is significantly…older.  Edward is the “love of Bella’s life”, and he is a vampire.  That should stop us right there from analyzing this further, however, this is one of the most successful young adult novels to date and has sparked a worldwide frenzy, specifically among tween and teenage girls, so it is important for all caring adults in their lives to have a handle about what this mammoth contains!

Bella falls into obsession with the Vampire Edward, and risks life and limb to be with him, no matter what, going so far as to run away from home and put herself into danger.  A danger from which she doesn’t save herself!

Bella’s entire being is for Edward.  She does what Edward says when he tells her to, he randomly leaves and comes back throughout the entire book series (and reportedly will do the same in the movie versions as well).  He continually puts her in danger, and she never stands up for herself.  She convinces herself that all she has to do is figure out a way to stay with Edward and everything will be fine.  Even if that means committing the final sacrifice of life (so she can live forever as a vampire, but still!)  All of these choices for a 100 year old boy!  

That above may not sound as much fantasy now that we have broken it down into actions instead of mythical creatures (werewolves show up at some point along with vampire hybrids).  Many of us as caring adults of young people have seen our teenage females and tween females do uncharacteristic things contradictory of their personality for the boy they “luuuuuuvvvvvvvvv” (the way my sister says it!), and we have seen how their plans and their desires for their own success get sacrificed.
In this time of communication with our young people (October was “Let’s Talk” Month), we are constantly looking for teachable moments, and this one is just around the corner.  Take a second to brush up on the characters’ names and associations, and break out a conversation with your young people about good relationships and bad relationships, what they want for themselves and what they see in their future, and how to hold onto those goals why navigating the scary world of teenage “luuuvvvvv”!  And bring some popcorn!
by: Taylor Wilson, Technical Assistance Associate, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
Contact Taylor:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Payment for Pregnancy Prevention?

I know that by today's standards, my teen years were fairly ideal and the clear exception to the rule. But have we taken the quest to motivate today's young people too far?

I come from a long line of educators. In my house growing up, graduating from high school was the norm, going to college was expected, and education even beyond that was encouraged. I also lived in a two-parent household (my parents recently celebrated their 40th anniversary), had the ability and opportunity to be involved in sports and other extracurricular activities, and received a strong, consistent message that having children was what you did after college and marriage. I know that by today’s standards, my teen years were fairly ideal and the clear exception to the rule. But have we taken the quest to motivate today’s young people too far?

Perhaps you’ve heard the buzz lately about the College Bound Sisters program in North Carolina. The program provides weekly 90-minute sessions on abstinence and contraceptives to girls who are 12-18, have never been pregnant, have a sister who is a teen mom, and have a desire to go to college. Funded through a state grant and private donations, College Bound Sisters costs approximately $75,000 a year with results so far of only 6 in 125 enrollees getting pregnant after being a part of the program for at least six months. Sounds good, doesn’t it? So what’s the problem?

Depending on who you ask, there is no problem. But I, for one, am bothered by the fact that College Bound Sisters pays these teen girls $1 a day for every day they do not get pregnant. The money is put into a fund which is released to the girl only after she enrolls in college.

And I’m not in the minority with my concerns. Opinions on the program span from full support to absolute horror. On the plus side, statistics show that siblings of teen moms are at greater risk for getting pregnant themselves which explains the target audience. Research also shows that young people with higher educational aspirations and goals for the future tend to be more motivated to avoid pregnancy, and having access to medically accurate information on abstinence and contraception provides young people with the knowledge and skills needed to make healthy decisions related to sex. But there are still many unanswered questions.

Is PAYING a teen girl not to get pregnant the best way to motivate and encourage her to make healthy decisions? Where do programs like these leave males – without whom there would be no pregnancy? And does the program actually help prevent pregnancies or just encourage young people to get abortions so they can still cash in for college?

Beyond all of that, though, I wonder what expectations this creates among our young people. Will they believe that making decisions in their own best interest should always come with a paycheck? Will parents see these programs as a way to delegate their own responsibilities to teach their children to someone else - while building a college fund along the way? And ultimately, will we create another generation of young people covered in band-aids but not actually healed of the underlying problems? Maybe my ideal childhood created an idealist out of me, but I think there has to be a better way.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Remarks Given by Executive Director, Forrest Alton, at the HIV/AIDS Community Discussion

"Good evening, my name is Forrest Alton and I am the Executive Director at the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. I am increasingly concerned about high rates of HIV and unintended pregnancy in our state, especially among young people. For too long prevention strategies in our state and across the nation have been limited and frankly inadequate, in large part because of a view from leadership and decision makers that issues such as HIV and unintended pregnancy are moral issues.

Some of my colleagues would suggest to you that we RE-frame these issues as public health issues – which they are. Tonight, I ask us all including the White House to go one step further and begin thinking about and talking about HIV and unintended pregnancy as urgent social issues. Urgent social issues don’t bring a blind eye, they bring focus and attention; urgent social issues don’t bring arguments, they bring action; urgent social issues don’t bring partisan politics they bring solutions. Moreover, urgent social issues require solutions that are sustainable for the long term.

I certainly commend the Obama administration for hosting this meeting and listening the concerns of Columbia, SC. And, I certainly encourage the Administration to fully support the ideas and suggestions offered by my friends and colleagues this evening – things like fully funding comprehensive sex education for all young people; eliminating ineffective abstinence-only-until-marriage programs; increasing access to condoms and contraception; targeting interventions for high priority youth; conducting outreach on college campuses, etc.

I would, however, add one thought to this dialogue and that is to ensure that the Administration is deliberate about how programs are created and where they are located so that we can ensure that the progress we make on these critical issues over the next eight years – yes, eight, not four – will not be undone by future Administrations.

Thank you for your time.”

All the best,

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Bible Belt and Babies

The news report was one to turn your head. “U.S. states whose residents have more conservative religious beliefs on average tend to have higher rates of teenagers giving birth.” In so many ways that just doesn’t make sense! Everything inside us says that the more religious states should have a lower rate of teen births. After all, other studies have shown that religious participation serves as a deterrent to sexual activity. So what is going on here?

I was one of those kids who grew up in the Bible Belt, participating in “religious activities!” In my tiny little town there wasn’t a lot going on, so church was the center of activity for many of us. We had a wonderful youth choir, we went on retreat and camps, in general had a great time together.

A few years ago I was having a conversation with a friend from those years, and we were discussing what our church had taught us about sex. Both of us agreed that the message had been very clear. “If you have sex, at the very moment of penetration, the ground will open up and you will plunge into the center of hell.” There was no mistaking the message. It was there!

But neither of us could ever remember any conversation about sex.


The message was there. It was hanging in the air and we took it in with every breath. We were at church for Sunday School, worship, Sunday Night church, Training Union (now you know I grew up Baptist!) choir, Wednesday night activities, Youth Group. We were there after school many days, just to hang out. We were there all the time, but we never ever talked about sex.

Which may very well explain the problem. Churches aren’t talking about sex, or contraceptives, or sexuality, or relationships. The message is “out there;” it’s just never verbalized. And in that strange world of the teenage brain, the message goes something like this:

I know I shouldn’t have sex. So there is no need to think about contraceptives, because if I bought a condom, or took the pill, then that would mean I was planning to have sex, which makes that premeditated sin. But if Friday night when our parents are out of town and we have a few beers and “just get carried away,” then that isn’t as bad.

No it doesn’t make logical sense, but then we are talking about romance and hormones and the teenage brain—not a “logical combination.” (But then, often times it isn’t a logical combination with adult brains either!) That is why we must be talking with our teens about sex. It is a task for parents, for schools, for caring adults, and yes, for churches. Our teens need and want some direction, some idea of how to maneuver through these turbulent years. They want to know about sex, but even more about relationships and values. And is there anywhere better for that conversation than our churches, temples and mosques?

The Campaign has resources—both written and personal—to help you with the conversations! During this month, and every month, let’s talk with our youth about what is important. It is a message that is too important just to let “hang in the air.”

by: Rev. Don Flowers, Immediate Past Board Chair and Pastor of Providence Baptist Church
Contact Don:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

In Their Own Words

Recently, a colleague returned from a conference with a DVD produced by MTV called Think HIV: This is Me, that shows teens and young adults from across the country talking openly about their experience with HIV. Most of the youth are HIV positive and all of the video clips are self-recorded, which adds a rawness to their stories about living with HIV that is both compelling and painful to watch.

Young people from all backgrounds – suburban, urban, white, Latino, African-American, male and female- talk openly about the impact of being HIV positive. Youth filmed themselves in their rooms, in clinics, getting their test results, fighting with partners, and disclosing their status. One of the women talks about the judgment and whispers she faced in school after peers learned of her HIV status, while another candidly shares about not having disclosed her status to a partner. By featuring all types of people living with HIV, the video challenges stereotypes about who gets HIV.

While viewing the video, I was struck by how rarely real young people have the opportunity to talk about the important things in their lives. Even with the ubiquity of “reality” television, it is unusual to let young people, especially young women, be frank and honest about what happens in their lives. Given the glamorized, superficial, and sexualized way youth typically are portrayed in the media, it was refreshing to see real people telling real stories about things that matter. Talking about sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy is not easy. But, videos like this one show that the first step is just giving young people the means to tell their story in their own words.

by: Shannon Flynn, Director of Research and Evaluation, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
contact Shannon:

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Not Just Another Statistic

When I was a Junior at Clemson (Go Tigers!), I got the phone call that I would never expect to get. It was my mom in tears, “Sarah, your sister is pregnant,” she said. A thousand thoughts rushed into my head all at once and from that moment on, my family was never the same again.

Let’s take a few steps back. My mother and step-father had recently divorced, my boyfriend was thousands of miles away, in Iraq, and I was just trying to maintain a decent grade point average while dealing with social pressures at college and desperately missing home. My sister and I are two years apart. I was always the over-achiever and she was always able to live life by “the seat of her pants.” I’ve always admired her free-spirit and ability to live spontaneously, never considering future implications. It was ironic that the personality traits that I admired in my sister were the same factors that put her at risk for an unintended pregnancy.

My sister was 18 years old, fresh out of high school and experiencing the first few months of being a freshman in college when she found out that she was pregnant. I never thought that our family would be “that” family. I never considered how a teen pregnancy would impact my family. I always thought that my sister and I would watch each other graduate from college, get married and have kids together in that order. Parts of me felt embarrassed and other parts of me felt resentful. I kept thinking “how could this happen?” and I realized that my sister and I had always been college prepped but never prepped for the world of hormones and sexual behaviors.

My parents prepared us for college since day one. I was wearing a Clemson ‘onesie’ when I was just a few weeks old. The standard in my family was to graduate college, get a great job, get married and then have kids. We never even knew that sometimes it doesn’t always happen in that order. My mom always made sure I was prepared for school, enrolling me in all the SAT prep courses, encouraging me to take the AP classes, and always supporting me academically. One thing was certain; school was priority in our home. It never dawned on my parents that if we made risky sexual decisions, those academic dreams would be put on hold or would cease to exist altogether. Our sexual education occurred when I was in the 8th grade, we were eating dinner at the kitchen table when my sister and I started giggling at the neighbor’s cat getting a little too fresh with our precious kitty, Sassy. We asked my mom what they were doing and my mother replied “they are being vulgar and having sex. That is only for adults…and cats”. And that was it. That was my sexual education.

So why is it that parents prepare and encourage their children to grow up with dreams of achieving academic success while never considering that if a teen puts themselves at risk for unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and HIV, that those dreams may never be achieved? If parents spent as much time preparing their teens for safe sexual practices as they do for the SAT, don’t you think that teens would be more prepared to take care of their sexual health? Maybe instead of SAT courses, we should implement sex education courses that prepare our young adults for a world of sexual behaviors and unintended outcomes.

Today, four years after I received that phone call, I look at my sister and I still see a teen mother; a mother that had to abruptly stop being a child to raise a child of her own. Every time I see a statistic on another teen pregnancy; I see my sister’s young face, and that face is what motivates me to help other young people prevent unintended pregnancies.

by: Sarah Huggins-Kershner, Research and Evaluation Specialist, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
contact Sarah:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

TV 101: Primetime Education

This week marked the official start of autumn; however the signs of its inevitable approach and the end of summer have been around for weeks. Kids are back in school, weekends are now comprised of college football and tailgating, and the temperature seems to finally be cooling off. Another sure sign of fall’s encroachment are the season premieres of our favorite shows. As a self-proclaimed TV junkie, I must admit I am quite excited for the return of Biggest Loser (NBC) and Grey’s Anatomy (ABC), but from a professional standpoint, season premieres are a great time to incorporate those “teachable moments” we always talk about.

As research for this entry, I decided to tune into a few episodes of the CW’s 90210. For those of you who are unaware, the show is a revamp of the early 90’s hit series. Set in Beverly Hills, the characters in the show are faced with the same problems that are targeting our current youth. In just two episodes, the show has addressed such topics as alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, sexting and even teen pregnancy, some of the very same issues taking place in the hallways of South Carolina’s middle and high schools at this very moment.

So what does this mean? Whether it’s 90201 or another show, sit down and watch an episode or two with your kids and look for those teachable moments. By watching their favorite show with them, you are entering into their world, and you may find they have let down their walls and are a little more receptive to engaging in an open and honest conversation with you. Ask them how they feel about the issues being portrayed on TV, what decisions they might have made and whether or not they have any questions. Most importantly, remember that conversations regarding adolescent sexual health and risky behaviors should be ongoing.  National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reported (With One Voice, Spring 2009) that teens continue to say that parental/guardian influence still has the greatest impact on their decisions regarding sex. Make your voice heard and continue to look for those teachable moments, as teens really are listening to what you have to say even if they appear to be disengaged.

by: Jessica Cooper, Graduate Assistant, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
Contact Jessica:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Let's Be Incredible

Hello all you blog readers out there! Please let me preface the following commentary by warning you that my style is generally to present an issue, back it up with evidence from peer-reviewed journals, to follow-up with some good old-fashioned playing devil’s advocate, and then summarize with a thought-provoking question (or six). That style permeates in some fashion in today’s blog, but less this time because this is more of an opinion piece based solely on my own experiences. As such, please take what you will, believe what you like, and argue with/dismiss what you think may be ludicrous. I promise that I’m not here to convince you of anything; my purpose is simply to give you food for thought.

Today’s topic is Professional Development. I have no problem being transparent that writing about this topic given my current role at the Campaign may bring up shameless plugs for the trainings we offer in house and onsite. That being said, there is a much deeper issue here than promoting the Campaign’s original purpose. When I say the words “professional development”, what comes to mind? Your annual review where your supervisor encourages you to take advantage of “professional development” opportunities? Those emails/notices promoting “professional development” opportunities that you are SO interested in, but can never seem to find the time in your ridiculously hectic schedule to actually attend? Or, maybe you think of all those things that you want to learn more about, but you haven’t the slightest on where to find the information/training/coaching YOU need based on your own individual learning style and/or, and perhaps more importantly, based at a level that complements your repertoire of knowledge rather than repeating what you already know?

If any of those thoughts have at least crossed your mind, let me congratulate you on being ahead of the game. In other words, at least you are THINKING about the benefits and the absolute necessity of professional development, if only to mark off that box on your annual review. The solution to those thoughts is relatively simple:

1. Make a list of what it is that you WANT to learn more about (read: what are you motivated to learn more about) and make a list of what you NEED to learn more about (read: what must you learn in order to continuously engage in best practices);

2. USE the resources you have available to you at your fingertips (read: Campaign trainings, the brand new Online Learning Center that the Campaign will be launching soon, professionals at your place of employment who have experience in whatever information you are seeking as well as professionals at other related partner organizations like the Campaign, and the ABUNDANCE of information available to you FOR FREE on the web/at your local library);

3. Hold yourself accountable by setting deadlines for acquiring your new knowledge/skills – try post-its on your bathroom mirror at home, notes jotted to yourself in your planner, and/or tell somebody whose opinion you hold in high regard who can remind you to stay on target what it is that you are hoping to accomplish.

What is challenging is when none of those thoughts cross our minds when we hear the words “professional development”. Rather, if the idea of professional development is just that – an idea or an ideal – then we truly have a problem. We cannot operate under the premise that simply graduating from a great college and/or graduate program is enough to set us up for being lifelong experts at what we do. What may be even more tempting, and perhaps more realistic, is feeling that way after we have attained a level in our chosen profession where others refer to us as “experts” because of the ongoing in-the-field experiences we have had. The reality is that expertise is relative and fluid – a goal that isn’t measurable because there is ALWAYS something more that we can learn, a skill we can improve upon, a concept we can master simply because the knowledge available to us is always changing. Accepting, no embracing, that fact leaves us with no choice but to proactively and deliberately seek out professional development or be left behind in a mindset of passivity and apathy. In other words, being “good enough” is not good enough. We have to WANT to be incredible…and I don’t use that word lightly.

As such, the question I leave with you to ponder is as follows: what have you done with your professional development lately? The encouragement I hope you consider is that we can all make our strengths stronger and choose to challenge our weaknesses head on rather than burying them under the proverbial mounds of paperwork we consider more manageable. Believe me, you will feel more confident in yourself and your office teammates will respect you more for trying. Give it a shot and let us know how it goes. In return, I’ll keep you posted on my end as my own method of accountability.Let's Be Incredible

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Listening to Latinas: Barriers to High School Graduation

This week a report was released by the National Women's Law Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund on the alarming rates of Latinas dropping out of high school. According to the report, 41% of Latinas do not graduate from high school with their class in four years, if they graduate at all.

While there are many factors associated with the dropouts, the high teen pregnancy rate for Latinas — the highest of any ethnic group — is a primary barrier. In fact, almost half of Latinas who drop out of high school do so because of pregnancy and parenting responsibilities.

So what can be done?

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy started a Latino Initiative to address this pressing issue. To find out more, visit The National Campaign. Here you will find a wealth of resources, media appearances, and updates.

The National Campaign has taken the lead when addressing this issue, but I believe there is something we all can do. The first step is to become informed and to be aware of the unique hurdles Latinos are facing. The second step is to share the information you learn with others, especially educators and policymakers who are making important decisions. And finally, get involved when possible. Invest in the future of Latino children. Connect Latinas with role models and engage them in goal setting. Mentor a Latina to ensure they are prepared for post-secondary education. Teach your children to live in environments that are culturally inclusive and free of race, ethnicity, and gender discrimination. Be vocal that all South Carolina students are receiving comprehensive, sex education messages.

There is a role we all can play. What is yours?

by: Cayci Banks, Director of Communications, SC Campaign
Contact Cayci:

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Talk About Data

One of the greatest challenges of working in the field of teen pregnancy prevention is the amount of controversy the topic can generate. On one hand, it is great to have passionate, candid, and thoughtful conversations about the best way to protect young people from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. On the other, the noise from the debate can drown out some important things.

Solid research and evaluation lends clarity to the debate about the best way to prevent teen pregnancy. As formidable as this issue is, we are fortunate to have very robust data that can guide how we help our young people. Instead of a conversation about morals or judgment, data lets us talk about which programs can be most effective and the youth at highest risk of pregnancy.

One of the great things data allows us to do is get perspective by taking a step back to see where we came from and to plan for where want to go. Taking a big step back may mean looking at national statistics and trends on teen birth rates; the most recent year’s data indicates that rates are climbing ( When we are asked why, a possible explanation may be found in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which shows that condom and birth control pill use by sexually active high school students in South Carolina declined for the first time ever (YRBS 2008).

Or taking a step back may mean looking at national or state or county data that recently came out from Kids Count ( to see how South Carolina or your community is faring. While this data includes teen pregnancy, it also covers a host of topics that we know are related to teen pregnancy, such as school readiness, poverty, and infant health outcomes. While no one statistic can give you all the answers, keeping up with a variety of indicators can help to put the work we do into perspective. For example, in 2008, a larger proportion of children started school ready for first grade than in years past (Kids Count 2009). However, at the same time a larger proportion of 3rd graders tested below the state standards in math (Kids Count 2009).

As a social worker, I am sometimes surprised that I ended up in the “math department” and spend much of my day working with numbers and thinking about how to measure things! But, the story behind the numbers is what is truly exciting about this kind of work. Numbers will never give you all the information we need, but it helps us to think about the right questions to ask and ways to move forward. It can also be a solid reason to support the important work of local organizations. If there are questions you have about how to find data or use the information that you have, our department would love to hear from you. Sometimes data can be a program’s best advocacy tool and we would be happy to help if we can.

by: Shannon Flynn, Director of Research and Evaluation, SC Campaign
Contact Shannon:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Infamous Miley Pole Dance

I have a confession to make. I did not watch the Teen Choice Awards on August 9. I'm sure I was doing something very constructive with my time that caused me to miss out on this incredible showcase of talent - perhaps I was washing my hair. At any rate, it's been tough to ignore the controversy that has stemmed from that evening's festivities with Miley Cyrus and her alleged "pole dance."

Now, in an effort at some journalistic integrity, I found Miley’s performance of “Party in the USA” on youTube and watched the entire thing. The controversy over the dance is clear. Miley was, in fact, using the pole, which was attached to a Miley’s Ice Cream stand (that’s a blog topic for another day), to steady herself as she traveled across the stage. Obviously, standing on an ice cream cart in high-heel boots while singing and dancing requires some level of support. The fact that she occasionally danced in the DIRECTION of the pole was purely accidental, I’m sure.

So here’s my question: in what world do we need pre-teen Hannah Montana followers involved in a debate over whether or not Miley actually pole-danced during a performance? I would prefer that my 12 year old niece not even know what pole-dancing is, much less be able to accurately distinguish between that and dancing near a pole while holding on to it for balance.

I appreciate one astute YouTube blogger’s description of the Teen Choice Awards – that they are “one pair of hooker heels away from getting the word teen knocked off the title.” Of course, the Teen Choice Awards alone are not to blame. We live in a world where even our youngest females are constantly depicted in sexual ways in all avenues of media: where it’s not enough to be smart, compassionate, funny, talented, or even attractive. One must be sexy, hot, steamy, and show lots of skin.

In the world of teen pregnancy prevention, this presents a huge hurdle. How do we send the message to a 14 year old girl that she is more than what she physically presents to the world when she receives messages at every turn to the contrary? And how do we help a 14 year old boy understand that females are more than a potential hook-up when he repeatedly sees images of females highlighting body parts that may not even be fully developed yet?

There are no easy answers to these questions. But in an effort to invest in today’s young people, I for one will make sure I’m washing my hair during the 2010 Teen Choice Awards. And I will make sure my niece is doing so as well.

by: Dana Becker, Technical Assistance Specialist, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
Contact Dana:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Time to Prepare

Living on the coast, you learn about the seasons - not just spring summer winter and fall, not just football and basketball and baseball (soccer is eternal.) No you learn about Hurricane Season. You learn that beginning the middle of August it is a good thing to turn to the Weather Channel at least once a week at ten minutes before the hour to check out Tropical Storm Update! Just in case!

Even though it has been a relatively slow season, things have started to heat up in the tropics with Ana, Bill and Claudette forming in just a few hours. With each storm, we are told that now is the time to prepare—just in case. Get water and food for at least a few days; make an evacuation plan, get the materials together to protect your home. Bill is now a major hurricane, but models show it curving out to sea, not hitting the SC coast, but still we are told, now is the time to prepare.

But what about the storms that we know are going to hit...
In 2006 there were 8175 babies born to teenagers. They are now 3 years old. That means that in 3 years they will begin first grade. That is 327 first grade classes. Statistics tell us that most of those children will be living in homes below the poverty line—putting them at risk. This is the side of preventing teen pregnancies that often gets overlooked. We forget that these infants grow up to be first graders. What are we doing to prepare?

Unfortunately, as a state we tend to be going in the opposite direction. Rather than preparing for the coming storm, we are making cuts that increase the coming intensity. A recent article in the Charleston Post and Courier reported that due to the ongoing budget crisis:

The Department of Health and Environmental Control has shrunk dramatically in the last decade, shedding just under 1,500 workers. Its funding has been cut by $35 million in the past year.

Among the programs affected:
  • The Postpartum Newborn Home Visit Program is now limited to the most high-risk infants on a referral-only basis.
  • The Family Planning program's budget for contraceptive services has dropped by 21 percent and fewer clinics are offering the service.
  • Several county health clinics have been closed and hours reduced at other places.
What does this say about our preparation for the future? What does this say about how we hope to deal with what we know will be coming our way? What does this say about what we think is important?

Everyday the National Weather Service informs us of storms that might be coming our way. They urge us to be prepared. Part of the role of the SC Campaign is to let us know of the storm that is coming our way. Our job is to be prepared?

How are we doing?

By: Rev. Don Flowers, Immediate Past Board Chair and Pastor of Providence Baptist Church
Contact Don:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Talk About Expensive

The USDA just released the annual "Cost of Raising a Child" report for children born in 2008, and boy-oh-boy are those little tots expensive!

On average, a middle class family can expect to spend over $220,000 raising the children born in 2008 until they are 17 years old, and that isn’t counting for inflation which brings that number to around $300,000. If we do general math (evaluators don’t get upset) and just divide that $220K by 17 years, that equals almost $13,000 a year to have a child! To top that off, this report ONLY counts the necessities, like food and shelter, but leaves out all non essential items!

Income can greatly affect what is spent on a child throughout their childhood and through high school. A family with an average income less than $56,870 can expect to spend almost $160,000 on one child through high school. That means that even adults earning minimum wage will spend upwards of $159,000 on each child in the family!

When speaking with young people about the cost of teen pregnancy, it is important to highlight the financial implications that having children at an early age can have on your life. These are just some numbers to help you start that conversation.

Check out the summary of the entire report for more information.

by: Taylor Wilson, Technical Assistance Associate, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
Contact Taylor:

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Getting Your Feet Wet

MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn: there are so many different social networking sites that serve so many different audiences, and sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. Here are three simple things to keep in mind when you decide to tackle the social networking beast…

Set Your Goals: Why does your organization want/need to be on a social networking site? This is important. Developing a presence on a social networking site can take hours for a single staff person to build and maintain, so knowing what your goals are ahead of time is key. You can use a social networking presence as part of your overall public awareness strategy, advocacy plan, or fundraising campaign. You can also use it to communicate with the target populations you serve. Knowing what you hope to accomplish first will help you decide which site to start with and how to begin crafting your presence.

Take Your Time: Do not try to develop a presence on every single social networking site out there. There are way too many for that! You’ll never be able to successfully maintain them all. Find the one site that is the best fit for your organization and grow your community there. Many social networking sites allow users to socialize with the people and the organizations that share the same goals and beliefs as you and your organization. Don’t worry if you don’t have 1000 contacts in the first month; building a network takes time, patience, and persistence. This means that you will have to actively recruit users! Then, after you get a grip on one site, consider creating a profile on additional sites.

Evaluate: Treat your social networking site like an extension of your organization’s website. Once it’s developed, it’s out there for the entire network of users to view. After people have access, evaluate whether or not it is meeting its purpose. How can it be improved? There is always room for improvement in every aspect of your public awareness strategy; your social networking presence is no different. You need to constantly think of new ways to keep your presence fresh and exciting, and ways you can incorporate it into other public awareness activities.

Taking the leap into social networking can be fun, and if you’re anything like me, it’s also an important part of your daily activities. Think of your networking presence as an office plant. It has be watered, nurtured, and spoken to regularly for it to stay alive.

Remember that when you’re tired of all the tweets and status updates, these sites provide our organizations FREE access to millions of people throughout the world – and with networks of over 300 million active users, it’s a world that we can‘t afford to ignore.

by: Zenica Chatman, Public Awareness Associate, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
Contact Zenica:

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Power of the Media

Have a few extra minutes? Go to Google and enter “media and sex.” Not surprisingly, there are a few hits on the topic – 254,000,000 to be exact. Some are commentaries on the relationships between the two, some are blogs, some highlight results of a recent study from the RAND Corporation indicating that high exposure to sexual media may lead to higher rates of pregnancy among teens. I know, I know… you’re shocked by that fact.

We must always remember that the media isn’t in the business of providing responsible sex education – instead, sex is used to get your attention. Sure enough, a deeper exploration of your “media and sex” search will lead to one of the more than 420 million (that’s six 0’s) pornographic pages on the net. This figure doesn’t even account for the massive impact of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other social networking sites. Facebook currently has over 200 million active users, MySpace topped the 100 million user mark three years ago and the 140-character craze known as Twitter is listed as the fastest growing website in the “member communities” category.

It would be easy at this point to blame the media for high rates of adolescent sexual risk taking behavior, but rather shouldn’t we be asking ourselves how to “get in the game?”  The SC Campaign is committed to doing exactly that. While we haven’t exactly figured out the who, what, and how - our new and improved website is step one in an ongoing process. Over the next several months you will see a complete integration of our website with pages on MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. We are also finishing work on a stand-alone website for young people. All of this to help us get to a point where the media isn’t the enemy, but rather a powerful tool that can be used for good. Why can’t we stop pointing fingers and start using the media as a way to distribute positive messages about sexuality and responsible decision making to young people?

Indeed, the media does have a power that we must harness and use to our advantage. The opportunity is upon us and the day in South Carolina is coming when media will be used as a prevention tool… it has to! Facebook pages linking youth to adolescent friendly health services… websites designed to deliver comprehensive, medically accurate information about love, sex and relationships directly to young people… Tweets about upcoming programs… it’s all possible and it’s all coming soon. For now, enjoy our new website and be sure to visit us often. We have a lot to share and lot to discuss with you.

By: Forrest Alton, Executive Director of the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
Contact Forrest:

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Poverty in America

Given the slow and halting pace of recovery from the Great Recession, it is not surprising that the US Census report on poverty in America showed a significant increase in the percent of people living in poverty – 14.3% compared to 13.2% in 2008. What does it mean to be counted as poor? In 2009, a family of two adults and two children would be considered poor if the household income was below $21,756.

The poverty rate has not been higher in the past 15 years, since 1994. Poverty data isn’t available for South Carolina from 2009, but judging from past trends, South Carolina’s rates are likely to be far higher than the national rates of poverty. Regionally, the South (including South Carolina) had 15.7% of people living in poverty in 2009.

As is typically the case, more children suffer from poverty than any other age group – 20.7% of children under the age of 18 live in poverty across the country compared to 12.9% of people between the ages of 18-64. We know that childhood poverty is linked to academic, emotional, social and physical problems (see ChildTrends Poverty and Children 2009) and we know that teen pregnancy is inextricably linked to poverty. Two-thirds of families begun by young unmarried mothers are poor. Teen pregnancy is the leading cause of high school dropout among girls and only 38% of mothers who have children before the age of 18 will earn a high school diploma. Poor education leads to poor employment possibilities and about a quarter of teen moms will receive public assistance within three years of their child being born (see National Campaign Why it Matters for these stats and more information on the connection between teen pregnancy and poverty).

While there are many ways to address poverty in America, from job training and education to restructuring public assistance, we know that teen parenthood tremendously burdens young people. While the poverty news is not good, what is good news is that for the first time, an unprecedented amount of federal funding will be travelling to communities across the country to tackle teen pregnancy. If successful, fewer young people will have to struggle with teen pregnancy, which could greatly improve their chances to avoid poverty.

by: Shannon Flynn, Director of Researcha and Evaluation, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
contact Shannon:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Review Time

By now the routine is down! The alarm clock goes off, breakfast is fixed, backpacks are loaded (“Has anyone seen my math homework?” “I can’t find my history book!”) At last the car is loaded and another day of school is off and running.

Even in classes there has been a routine. Roll is called so the teacher can learn all the names; all the extra-curricular activities are getting underway; there has even been a pep rally! And of course the teachers have spent the last few weeks reminding students of all the things they learned last year but somehow misplaced during summer vacation.

I remember those day sitting in class (for me it was always a math class) when the teacher (or professor) would say, “You learned this last year, so let’s review quickly…” And before I could figure out what he was saying, and discover that not only did I not remember the information I didn’t even remember learning it in the first place—we had moved on to something new!
And I wonder why I am not a nuclear physicist!

Teachers understand that we need to review the information! Students need to hear again the things we taught them last year—even if they know it, because it still serves as the base for everything that is going to happen this year. We know that!

Except when it comes to talking with our children about sex.
I mean, after all, didn’t his father talk to him last year when they went to the football game? They had “The Talk!” Didn’t her mother tell her about all that stuff. Our daughter doesn’t need to be reminded. We told her.

As adults we often forget that sexuality isn’t “The Talk,” but an ongoing conversation. The Middle Schooler who dared ask a question about plumbing now needs to have a conversation about values, and decision-making. That girl who thought boys were yucky in Elementary school is now getting calls from High School Seniors and is really flattered by it, but still can’t quite figure out what is going on.

Even though they act like they know it all (and didn’t we???) they are just as terrified and confused as I was when our calculus professor started talking about Max-Min problems. (I still don’t know what he was talking about!) But he took the time to review—and I remember that!
As parents, maybe this is the time for us to do a review as well. Use the teacher line, “I know you already know this and we have talked about this before, but…” Your kids will roll their eyes, say, “Oh Dad I know that!”

But they will be grateful. Because they really don’t know where their prostate gland is or how to tell that senior that they are just not comfortable with what he is asking. All their other teachers are reviewing. Maybe we as their most important teachers, their parents, need to do some reviewing as well!

by: Don Flowers, Former Board Chair and Pastor of Providence Baptist Church
contact Don: