Tuesday, January 29, 2013


January is National Mentoring Month.  Our big thanks to guest blogger and SC Campaign Evaluation Staff Member, Ms. Lesley Craft, MPH, CHES, PhD Candidate, Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior Department, University of South Carolina, for contributing a great piece to increase awareness of the benefits of mentoring.

I have had the incredible opportunity to serve as a mentor for the past five years to the sweetest and most amazing young lady I know.  Alexis (Lexi) and I met when she was a cute, shy 7-year-old and we have been inseparable ever since.  I started the mentoring program back in 2007 as part of an initiative through a local school district to try to reduce high school dropout rates.  The program was built on the premise that maybe, just maybe, pairing young children with caring adults could make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of our youth.  The program did not ask for a lot from the mentors; it merely asked that I visit Lexi’s school and eat lunch with her at least once a week. 

That first year was spent gaining the confidence of Lexi and her friends.  I listened to their secrets; we giggled and laughed, had inside jokes, and played tag at recess.  Over time, I began tutoring Lexi a few times per week after school and during the summers.  I gained the trust of her family and we grew together in our “village” of support for Lexi.  Alexis and I went on special outings, from sporting events to art museums and everything in between.  I taught her how to knit, we baked, we had slumber parties, and we watched every Justin Bieber video ever made.    

I had always wanted to be a mentor, and I love kids, but the final push for me to start mentoring was the unexpected death of my father.  My dad died two weeks before my 25th birthday, and I was devastated.  My dad was an incredible, loving, funny, considerate man, and I was lost without his influence in my life.  Over the course of that year, I tried to make sense of his death and what it meant for me.  Instead of continuing to wallow in my self-pity, I decided to do the only thing that always made me feel better – to start volunteering again and do something for someone else.  I can’t express how life-changing and probably life-saving my mentoring relationship has been.  In my darkest hour, I was able to find solace and hope in the smile of an innocent young girl. 

Throughout the years Alexis and I have developed a strong and undeniable bond.  She trusts me completely and I will do everything in my power to make sure I never lose her trust.  Since the time she was little, I have made it a point to give factual and non-judgmental answers to all of her questions.  In fact, “that’s a great question,” is one of my favorite phrases, especially when it comes to anything related to sex/relationships. Working in the field of sex education/teen pregnancy prevention, I have strived to have ongoing conversations about sex, relationships, self-esteem, body-image, and goal-setting with Lexi for years.  Alexis has always known that I am comfortable talking about sex and that I often bring it up, but I also stress that she can come to me when she has questions.  And she does.  Just last week, she texted me what she learned in her health class.  They just started their sexuality education curriculum and she wanted to tell me all about it.  She had additional questions and we spent the next hour texting about birth control. 

I am truly honored and excited to be a part of Lexi’s life.  She is a smart, kind, thoughtful, beautiful person, and I am lucky to know her.  I am thankful for the life opportunities that I have been given and the opportunity to share my experiences with someone else.  I am so proud of the woman she is becoming, and I am excited to see where her life leads.

by Lesley Craft, Evaluation Graduate Assistant, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Resolution, what resolution?!?

With 2013 in full swing, research has shown that about half of Americans will make a New Year's resolution. Unfortunately only about 8% of those folks will successfully achieve their resolution by the end of the year. So what is it about the New Year that makes us want to achieve world peace and lose 100 pounds? It seems that some sort of magic happens on New Year's Eve where people are changed...although as the stats show, that change only lasts temporarily. However, something magical does happen on New Year’s Eve that recharges folks and recommits them to their goals.

So what if we lived every day like it was New Year’s Eve (minus the copious amounts of champagne of course)? What if we woke up every day feeling recharged and ready to take on the world…and maybe even achieve some peace in our lives? Why do we have to wait until the end of the year to make a change in our lives? As adults we have the responsibility of modeling a life that we want our young people to aspire to achieve. We should all live by certain principles and model healthy behaviors for young people. These principles are simple but often forgotten:
  • Be kind to others. Treat others how you want to be treated. Show people respect and love. Seems easy enough right? Commit to doing a random act of kindness today for a stranger – pay for the persons’ meal behind you in the drive-thru line, open the door for a stranger, or help someone with their groceries.
  • Build healthy relationships with others and let go of unhealthy relationships. We want our young people in healthy relationships so let’s show them what that looks like. Show them what it is like to respect your partner and listen to their opinion. Show them what healthy affection looks like in a relationship.
  • Be passionate. Live your life fully and find your passion in something…golf, reading, shopping…just something. Show young people what it is like to be passionate for a cause and work hard for it. I once heard a wise man say that “we shouldn’t be afraid to fail, we should be afraid of succeeding at something that ultimately will not matter.” So do what you love and love what you do.
  • Be the best you that you can be. Sounds a little like Oprah or the Army but this is so true. Just be yourself and take care of yourself through exercising, eating right and getting enough sleep.
So my challenge to you is to ditch your traditional New Year’s resolution and strive to live every day recharged and recommitted to the young people in our lives. Live by the above principles and don’t wait until the end of the year to get refocused, do it today and every day. And maybe every once in a while, celebrate with champagne just for fun J

Cheers, friends!

by Sarah Kershner, Project Coordinator, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Protecting Our Children for the Future

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month.  Our big thanks to guest blogger and SC Campaign First Lady, Dr. Heather M. Brandt, PhD, CHES, Assistant Professor, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina for contributing a great piece to increase awareness of this issue.

If I asked you, if you could do something for your child today that would protect him or her from suffering in the future, how would you respond?

While I am not yet a mother, most parents and caregivers that I know would respond positively and want to do anything and everything they could to protect their child. Protecting children has been oft discussed and most recently in the context of gun control after the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Parents make decisions everyday that are in the interest of protecting their children – now and in the future – without hesitation.

Why is vaccination for a common sexually transmitted infection linked to cancer any different?

Before a newborn leaves the hospital, it is likely that he or she has received the first dose of Hepatitis B vaccine (which I should mention can also be sexually transmitted, but I digress). Well child visits during the first few years involve routine vaccinations that are questioned rarely. School mandates, financial access to infant and child vaccinations, provider recommendation, and generally high levels of awareness and acceptance by parents result in protecting children from a number of preventable diseases. Childhood vaccination coverage hovers around the 90th percentile for most vaccines. I do not believe that parents love their children any less when they reach adolescence, but adolescent vaccination is very different. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends three vaccines during adolescence: Td (tetanus and diphtheria toxoid)/Tdap (tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis), MenACWY (meningococcal conjugate vaccine), and HPV (human papillomavirus). In the U.S., Td/Tdap and MenACWY coverage is in the 70th percentile while HPV uptake is about half of that (~35%), according to the 2011 National Immunization Survey-TEEN by the CDC. Rates of adolescent vaccines in South Carolina are lower than the U.S. averages overall (Tdap=59.4%; MenACWY=55.4%; HPV females >3 doses=23.3%). The coverage gap in HPV vaccination, which is the difference in coverage estimates between the adolescent vaccine with the highest uptake (Td/Tdap) and HPV vaccine uptake, is approximately 36% among 13-17 year old females in South Carolina. This means that among adolescent females who receive the other adolescent vaccines that 36% fewer receive the HPV vaccine in South Carolina. Between 2010 and 2011, the overall rate of HPV vaccination among 13-17 year old females decreased and remains significantly lower than the U.S. average in South Carolina. HPV vaccination rates for males are abysmal despite the CDC recommendation for 11-12 year old females and males to receive the HPV vaccine. HPV is linked to cervical cancer and other anogenital and head and neck cancers in men and women in addition to several other HPV-associated diseases. Low rates of HPV vaccination are the antithesis of protecting our children. We must change low rates of HPV vaccination if we are to have any impact on reducing HPV-associated diseases in the future.

When it comes to protecting our children for what they may encounter in the future, several “P”s play a prominent role. Parents (caregivers), providers (pediatricians, family physicians), partners (schools, community groups, youth serving organizations), and policy are key to increasing initiation and completion of the HPV vaccination series among young people in South Carolina. We need parents to learn more about HPV vaccination and the importance of vaccinating during the recommended age period. We need providers – regardless of their personal opinions – to recommend the HPV vaccine to adolescents. We need partners, not only parents and the medical system, to join in efforts to increase HPV vaccination. Perhaps above all, we need policy. Policy is one mechanism for addressing gaps in HPV vaccination among our young people in South Carolina to level the playing field so that disparities in HPV-associated diseases do not persist. Rep. Bakari Sellers introduced the Cervical Cancer Prevention Act (H.3236), which narrowly missed being passed into law last session following the governor’s veto, in the South Carolina legislature to address HPV vaccination through increased access and parent education. Rep. Sellers has indicated that too many of our mothers, sisters, daughters, and other women whom we love have suffered unnecessarily, and we can do something today to change that. He is right. And, not to mention, HPV affects our fathers, brothers, sons and other men whom we love too. We might not be able to protect children from everything in the future, but we can protect them from acquiring types of HPV linked to cancer and other diseases and save them from unnecessary suffering.

So, I am asking you, if you could do something for your child today that would protect him or her from suffering in the future, how would you respond?

I hope that you would respond no differently when you learned that “something” meant the HPV vaccine.

Legislation is timely and critical to reverse the trend of decreased initiation and completion of the HPV vaccine series in South Carolina and will be one of the focus areas of Cervical Cancer-Free South Carolina, a partner of the Cervical Cancer-Free America movement. Cervical Cancer-Free South Carolina is focused on utilizing comprehensive, evidence-based strategies to prevent cervical cancer in our state. Join us in our work to make South Carolina cervical cancer-free.

For more information, email CervicalCancerFreeSC@gmail.com.

Monday, January 21, 2013

"Not a day off, but a day on"

Before I get into my blog post about Dr. Martin (Michael) Luther King Jr., I'd like to acknowledge the countless others who were a vital part of the advancement of civil rights. Ruby Bridges, Dredd Scott, and James Meredith are just a few notable names who made contributions in the fight for equality.

To prepare for this blog, I reread and listened to a few of Dr. King's speeches. The sound of his voice alone evokes emotions and I can’t help but to think,  if that afternoon on April 4, 1968 hadn't happened and an 84 year-old Dr. King was still with us today, how different would my life be? Once I really understood what the Civil Rights Movement was and the impact it had on my parents, I made the choice to never accept intentional mistreatment. Back then, they didn't have (or at least didn't perceive to have) a choice. I do.

Fast forward to our present day. There's an on-going argument as to whether his Dream has come to pass or not. I'll keep my opinion on that to myself. What I will speak on is how selfless he was. I shudder to think of how different things could be if he had been a selfish man. I remember when the slogan, “ Not a day off, but a day on” became popular. Everyday, Dr. King was on. Everyday, not only on his birthday, but EVERYDAY, he got up and made choices, knowing that there were people whose sole purpose were to make his wife a widow and his children orphans.

Unfortunately, one Spring afternoon in 1968, someone succeeded at that cowardly aim. Though I never had the opportunity to meet Dr. King,; I ( along with my college sorority sisters) had the honor of briefly meeting his gracious wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King. In her speech, she charged us to be ashamed to die before we had done something for humanity. Those words have played over and over in my head for the last ten years.

I used to ask myself, “What can I do?” Finally, I realized that - while I was thinking of this master plan - there is plenty that needs doing now. I am still working on my master plan, but in the meantime, I donate my time, talent, and treasure as much as I can. If I see a need and if I have the resource to address it, I do. If I don't have the resources, I find someone who does. If I can't find someone, I find someone who knows someone who DOES have or can create the resource.
So, with all of that being said, what will you do with your day off?

by Meredith Talford, Upstate Technical Assistance Specialist, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Dealing with Diversity

In the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., I have a dream that one day we can accept people for who they are regardless of their race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. He dreamed that we would live in a world of equality and civil rights. Yet, as Dr. King's birthday passes us, I think about how far our country has come and how much further we have to go. My mother always told me to live by the golden rule: “treat people how you want to be treated.” Yet, racism, sexism, and ageism still exist in our country today, so it is safe to say that not all of our citizens follow this same belief.

Diversity makes this county a fascinating place in which to live. It enriches the experiences you will have in both academic and professional settings. Through diversity, we are able to learn from others’ personal beliefs and experiences. So, I challenge you this entire month and every month for that matter, to think outside the box and get to know someone who is different than you. Dr. King would have turned 84 this year. If we begin to acknowledge our differences and celebrate diversity, Dr. King’s dream may come true after all!

by Dr. India Rose, Project Manager, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Cayci Banks' Open Letter to NBC

Dear NBC Parenthood,

As the mom of a three year old, it isn't often that I'm in front of the TV alone, but every Tuesday night I make sure Lucas is tucked in bed and my other "mom" duties are complete, so I can enjoy the latest episode of Parenthood on NBC. It has become mine and my husband's favorite show, and this season just keeps getting better and better.

In this week’s episode, in addition to just playing to my parent side, the show touched a couple of topics that are near and dear to me as an employee of the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. One of the show’s younger characters Drew, a senior in high school, found out his girlfriend was pregnant and Max, a middle school boy with Asperger Syndrome, began to hit puberty.

I want to commend Parenthood for tackling these issues and for doing so with what seemed like informed writing. We saw Drew and his girlfriend struggle with a very hard decision, and what was really interesting was seeing it all from the young man’s point of view. Too often we hear stories about teenage girls having to go through situations alone, but Drew was there for his girlfriend, owned up to his responsibility, and was encouraging her to weigh all options. He told her he loved her and that they could build a life together, but she insisted that if she had a baby, her life would be over. In the end, she decided to end her pregnancy, but I appreciated the emotional struggle that Parenthood portrayed through its characters.

Secondly, I thought the show did a phenomenal job of showing the difficulty in talking to a child with special needs about love, sex and relationships. Let’s face it – most parents squirm when thinking about having talks with their kids about these topics, but Parenthood showed the importance of having the talk, even if the conversation is uncomfortable. Max’s parents chose to let the Dad take the brunt of the conversation thinking the son would feel more comfortable talking to his dad about his changing body. But what struck me the most about their conversation was towards the end, when Max said, “Dad, I don’t want to talk about this anymore. I’m not ready.” How powerful. We must trust our kids and trust that they will come to us when they are ready, but as adults we often need to take the first step, which is exactly what this dad did. The dad’s response to Max’s comment was spot on, “Well Max, please know that I am here to talk when you are ready.” He didn’t force the conversation; he simply wanted Max to know that he was there and willing to talk on Max’s terms, when Max was ready.

So Parenthood, this week you get two thumbs up from this mom and employee of a non-profit who works day in and day out on sexual health issues. Keep the good episodes coming.



by Cayci Banks, Director of Communications, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy