Saturday, September 28, 2013

Southern #DataDiva Visits the Big City

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to present at Tableau Software’s annual conference. This would mark my very first visit to Washington, DC, which just so happened to fall during the week of September 11th. This week is typically a week that stirs up bad memories and reminds us of all the evil that still exists in the world. During my week in the big city I couldn't help but notice the opposite.

As a South Carolina native who does very little travelling out of state, I had a preconceived idea of what my adventures in DC would be. I expected to get lost in a crowd or have my life in danger from the wild driving skills of the cab drivers (not so – both drivers were very cautious and extremely kind). Instead, I was delighted with the hospitality of our nation’s capital city and the residents who love it.

While at the conference I was in my element among #DataNerds from all over the country and abroad. I soaked up every opportunity to learn how to pimp my dashboard (that’s another blog in itself), makeover my database and carve my path to becoming a #DataDiva. Midway through the conference, I presented on how the SC Campaign is using a Business Intelligence software to monitor teen birth trends and where to invest for programming in our state. It was exciting to present on behalf of our organization and the progress our state is making toward reducing the teen birth rate.

I spent most of my visit just outside of downtown DC in the National Harbor. Ironically, my only opportunity to travel into DC was on September 11th. The day before, a fellow conference attendee sat down at my lunch table and soon realized it was my first visit to DC. He began to gush about how wonderful the city is. His passion for the city was contagious and encouraged me to be brave and explore the city the following day (he even convinced me that taking the metro into town was something I must try – and I did!). I saw the Washington Monument, the White House and more food trucks than I knew existed!

I’ll never forget my time in DC – it was a reminder of how kind people can be even amidst one of the saddest weeks for our country.

by Jordan Slice, Research and Evaluation Associate, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Little Hammock Time Goes a Long Way

Now, let’s be honest.  No one has ever accused me of biting off more than I can chew.  I’m really not a “yes” person, and I’m unapologetic about doing my own thing.  Despite this, the past few months of my life have swirled together like a box melted crayons, all the vibrant colors muted in a pile of muddy brown.  My mind in a fog, many of my conversations have play out like this:

Co-worker: “How was your weekend?”
Me:  “Uh…hmm…what did I do yesterday?  I don’t really remember…  I think I left the house?”

Photo by: Meagan Jean Wooley 

Mom: “Alright, give me directions as I drive.”
Me:  “Okay, keep going and turn at the thing.”

In this example, “the thing” means street.  My mind is too lazy to recall the word for STREET! :( “Something’s gotta give,” I tell myself day after day.

As part of a book exchange here at the SC Campaign, I started reading "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle.  After reading the first couple of chapters, my focus is already shifting, and I feel more at peace.  In an effort to relax this Sunday, I sat in my hammock and read in the cool, fall air.  It was the best decision I made all weekend!  The quiet time not only helped me relax yesterday, but it poured into the beginning of my work week.    

On my journey to live a more meaningful life at home and at work, I’m trying to prioritize quiet time just as much as washing the dishes, helping my stepson with homework and catching up on television shows.  I am my best wife/mother/daughter/friend when I am present, not distracted.  So if you see me walking around like a Zen priestess, you’ll know I’ve been keeping my promise to myself.  If you spot me dragging around my zombie limbs in a cloudy haze, remind me to take some hammock time – just a little goes a long way.

by Kemi Ogunji, Executive and Development Assistant, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Fruits & Veggies: More Matters Month

According the, September is Fruits & Veggies: More Matters Month. Now that Summer is coming to an end, the  local farmers and super markets will be filled with turnips, pumpkins, broccoli, butter lettuce, honey dew and other seasonal fruits and vegetables that can lower our risk for some chronic diseases, like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. However, most of us don’t eat enough from this food group.

Only 1 in 3 adults eat the recommended amount of fruits every day*. Only 1 in 4 adults eat the recommended amount of vegetables every day*. Changing our eating habits can be overwhelming, but there are small things we can do. We can encourage our families to have at least one serving of  fresh fruit or vegetables with each meal and motivate local businesses to create healthier workplaces by providing quality foods. Personally, I enjoy visiting the local farmers markets on Saturday mornings. I have really embraced the field-to-fork concept.


by Meredith Talford, Upstate Training & TA Specialist, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Today, I Remember

September 11 is a day that is etched in the minds of people across the world. None of us will likely forget that fateful day in 2001 when we watched the airplanes hit the Twin Towers and their subsequent collapse. None of us will likely forget the pain we felt as we thought of the lives lost. Many of us vividly remember wondering about the fate of relatives and friends who worked in NY and more specifically one of the towers. I can remember as though it were yesterday the panic we felt in our family until we knew my cousin who worked in a building nearby at the time was safe. I, like so many others, pause today to think about those who died and perhaps even more so, those they left behind who are likely reliving that day in a way that we cannot fathom. They are certainly in our thoughts and our prayers.

I also pause today to remember that 13 years ago today, I embarked upon a journey with the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy – excited to re-enter the workforce after a 4.5 year break to focus on my adolescent daughters and perhaps even more excited to be in a place where I could learn as much as possible to help them avoid too-early parenting!

I can remember the three employees who were my colleagues at the time, one of whom announced her resignation the day I arrived. I can clearly remember the little blue house at 1511 Gregg Street in Columbia and the wonderful work on behalf of South Carolina’s young people. I can see the conference room and the TV that Joy Campbell turned on that day in 2001 so we could watch the news.

I can also remember the regional coordinators’ meetings with Judi Gustafson, Juanita Mendenhall, Gail Robinson, Margaret Key and Michelle Nimmons. I can recall climbing into Suzan Boyd’s SUV after her arrival and going to all the Regional Roundtables for the first time. Oh, how I remember the first staff meeting with me, Tina Torres and Suzan – and the minutes from that meeting that we still chuckle about today!

I remember the CAPP and MAPPS providers (I’ll refrain from giving names lest I forget someone!) and the many staff we have been privileged to work with at the SC Campaign. I remember when Forrest joined us as a grad student – and now I am able to witness his great leadership as our CEO! Actually, this trip down memory lane is starting to make me feel a bit ‘seasoned’ as my 80-year old mother, who refuses to think of herself as old, would say!

In all seriousness, today I am simply amazed at the changes over the years, and the current work of the SC Campaign and its many statewide partners. Much has changed – as it has in the world at large. What remains the same, however, is our commitment to the young people of South Carolina. The staff works just as hard, if not harder, to do our part to fulfill the vision: Healthy Youth. Bright Futures. Strong Communities.

Yes, I pause today to remember 9-11, to remember my decision to join this staff and the current commitment I still have to this cause and this organization. I also pause to say thank you to those who afforded me the opportunity, to those with whom I’ve worked and continue to work for enriching my life, and I celebrate the work we have accomplished together. The teen birth rate among school-aged young people in South Carolina is the lowest it has ever been! So, let’s keep at it because together we can continue to make a difference.

P.S. My daughters are now beautiful, confident young women in their late 20s, and I’m looking forward to sons-in-law and grandbabies I can spoil rotten in the near future. :)

by Gwendolyn Baker, Chief Operating Officer, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Entering the Wide World of Contraception

LARC. IUD. Vaginal Ring. The Patch. It’s my first month at the SC Campaign, and I’m learning more about contraceptive options than I ever thought possible. Before I came here, most of my education was around condoms and the birth control pill. LARC sounded like some sort of Lord of the Rings role-playing game, I thought IUDs were most appropriate for women who had already had children (or never wanted to have children), and the sponge was something I vaguely remembered from a Seinfeld episode.

I’m 27 years old, and in a lot of ways my education has been lacking when it comes to accurate information about reproductive health. Combine that with the classic myths everyone hears as a teenager (you can’t get pregnant your first time, having sex in water is effective birth control, etc) and it’s no wonder our young people are confused about their birth control options.

As we’re starting the journey to launch the "Not Right Now" brand statewide, I’m looking forward finding creative ways to get accurate information into the hands of teens and their parents. After all, how can we expect our young people to make good decisions if they don’t have all the facts?

Check out our Contraception Comparison Tool for teens! 

by Kylee Perez, Communications Specialist, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Back to School - A New Taste of Freedom

I've always heard that you’re likely to find your life-long love in college, and I understand why.  College is the only time where you will live with approximately 300 eligible, educated and often attractive members of the opposite sex.  While there are obviously perks of living in this environment, it can also become dangerous for freshmen who are experiencing a new taste of freedom.

As a Resident Mentor, I often have parents ask me to make sure their daughters don’t have guys spend the night in their room. However, it is usually this girl who takes advantage of her newly found freedom and becomes consumed by the opposite sex, now freed from her parent’s strong grip.

After meeting hundreds of freshman and living with nearly 1,500 of them over the last three years, I have come to the conclusion that they are most likely going to have someone of the opposite sex spend the night at some point in time.  I no longer feel like it is my job to stop them, but I do feel like I can educate them and help keep them safe. The best way to have these important conversations with freshmen is by keeping it casual and treating them as adults. They are no longer children who can be told what to do, and trust me, they are aware of that.

My first approach is always to show them that I care about them and want to keep them safe.   It is important that this message is consistent across the board.  If they think you are only worried about them getting pregnant, they’re going to shut you out because they have heard it so many times.  Let them know that there are many more complications that come along with sex, besides just getting pregnant.  Sex often affects teenagers emotionally as well and can lead to unhealthy relationships if it is not handled properly.

I know that as a Resident Mentor, and I can imagine as a parent, it would be easier if everyone waited to have sex until they were married or old enough to have a child and went through their college years studying and watching movies with friends on the weekend.  However, that is not always the case.  So, it is important to learn how to communicate with young adults and encourage them to stay safe in everything they do, whether that be having sex or going to the Carolina football game wearing a Clemson jersey.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Lessons Learned from the Lumberyard

When I was 13 years old, I started working at Elliott Gin & Lumber Company. The company had been in my family for years, originating as a Cotton Gin and then later becoming a hardware store. I worked 50- hour work-weeks during the summer as the “Executive Granddaughter” whose primary responsibilities included organizing the nail bins, picking up lunch and accompanying my grandfather (PaPa) on site visits (which was basically riding around in the pick-up truck and stopping for snacks along the way).

I initially started working because I wanted to make money to buy “necessities” that my mom wouldn’t buy me, like a zebra print high-heel shoe chair for my room (which took 4 week’s worth of pay to buy). After working there every summer and throughout college, I started to realize that I was learning more than just how to mix paint and drive a fork-lift; I learned about life, faith, happiness and love.

To this day, PaPa is the greatest man that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He was strong as an ox but gentle as a lamb. He was a boxer in the Army, and a story was often told about when he was getting vaccinated for the Army, his muscles flexed so badly that he actually bent the needle. His loves were God, Billy Graham, family and cornbread (in that order). His hands were callused and bruised from years of working in the cotton gin but he used those same hands to thank God for his blessings and to give the best bear hugs.

PaPa taught me about the difference between a roofing tack and a cement coated sinker nail. He taught me to treat everyone the same no matter what the color of their skin, their religion, their income or their past. He taught me that if you can’t buy it with cash then you don’t need to buy it. He believed that a handshake was a commitment, and he always honored his commitments. He taught me that only “hussies” wear red finger-nail polish (and to this day, I can’t bring myself to wear red polish on my nails). He taught me that a lady should have a Bible and .38 revolver nearby at all times (he lovingly referred to my .38 as “Bully”). PaPa believed in the value of hard work and worked until the day he passed away at 84 years old.

Because of the values my grandfather instilled in me, I have never given up on anything. There have been times where I have had to fight for my beliefs, my marriage and for my family. There have been times where I want to give up and give in, but I know that my PaPa would tell me “you can do this and you will do this” followed by a huge hug. PaPa believed in me more than I have ever believed in myself, and that is what keeps me going when times get tough.

This year, my husband and I will welcome a little baby boy into the world and he will be named after my grandfather, McSwaine (Mac) Elliott. He will have big shoes to fill and even bigger stories that he will need to tell about his great-grandfather, but I know that because of what my PaPa taught me during the hot summers in the lumber yard, baby Mac will have the same love for God, loyalty to family and love for others as PaPa did.

And from what the nurses have told us about the size of baby Mac on the ultrasound, it looks like he will have the same love for cornbread as his PaPa :)

This Grandparents Day on Sunday, September 8, take the time to thank your grandparents and reflect on the life lessons they have instilled in you. 

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

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I’m Not a Prince, I'm a Kid...

And then my 4 year old went on to clarify even further when I started talking about Prince William and Duchess Kate’s new arrival  – I am not a prince, I am Landen Wicker, he continued!  Yes that’s my little man - confident, clear, and totally self absorbed (in a good way of course!).  His quick and confident response jolted me and made me realize that we all sometimes get caught up in celebrity and what others are doing or what they have.  Our babies are not impressed – that is until we start putting our insecurities on them.

I thought it was cute to tell him that he was my little prince but he wasn't having it – he has his own identity and that was end of discussion.  Titles be damned – he is self-assured and ready to take on the world as Landen Wicker.  Well, I am not na├»ve enough to think that he will always have this energy and independence every day, but it is my and my husband’s job, along with our family and friends, to support him and the other children in our family.  We have to encourage and uplift them every day.  That does not mean that we coddle or make them selfish and inconsiderate – it just means that, even when we admonish or discipline them, we are modeling effective communication and promoting high self-esteem.

WORDS MATTER – even to our youngest children, so we must always be real, clear, positive, stern, and patient.

Now, Landen is still my little prince, and as he gets older and understands what a monarchy is, he might be a bit impressed by royalty.  I am sure that he will also continue to love popular music and other entertainment, keeping up with the latest/hippest trends, and be influenced by technology.  But, I will always remember this day when he pushed aside my notion to compare him to a royal baby and will do my best to help him to avoid obsessive concern with celebrity and fame.

by Kim Wicker, Outreach and Development Specialist, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy