Last week I had the privilege of spending three crazy days at a retreat with three teams of young people. Each team represented one of three counties that are part of the community-wide teen pregnancy prevention initiative currently funded by the Centers for Disease Control. This is the second year we've had this gathering, but the focus was much different this time around. Last year we talked a lot about birth control, HIV and sexually transmitted infections – basic nuts and bolts of pregnancy prevention work. The youth team coordinators decided that the focus this year needed to be a bit different. Our young people are learning those basics but have still been hesitant to be open about their personal experiences with teen pregnancy and why this issue is so important to them. And is it any wonder considering the fact that it’s not socially acceptable to TALK about sex even though we can certainly hear about it on TV, in the movies and in every song on top 20 radio stations?
This year we brought in an organization called Leading to Change (shout out to the LTC Rock Starz! www.leadingtochange.com) that worked with the young people on the development of each of their personal stories. Over 24 hours, they drafted, crafted, previewed and then presented some of the most amazing presentations I've ever heard. In a room with 29 young people between the ages of 14 and 21, I saw enough commitment, passion and compassion to change the world when it comes to teen pregnancy. And they’re bringing this commitment, passion and compassion to a community near you!
Why was this experience so significant for me? Beyond lack of sleep, the constant exposure to “twerking” and Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” and some amazing bonding time, I realized yet again how powerful the experiences of our young people are when we 1) ask them to share those experiences, 2) really listen to what they say and 3) allow their experiences and personal stories to change how we work with young people. Once the 29th teen had finished sharing and the Kleenex box was empty, I know I was changed.
by Dana Becker, Spartanburg Community Specialist, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy