Thriving Communities, Empowered Youth: Making Teen Pregnancy Prevention Work
By Shaunae Motley | June 20, 2017
Director of Programs, Quest for Change
Every May, our communities mark National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. It’s a fine opportunity to reflect on the difference prevention work makes in the lives of young people. Since peaking in 1991, teen births have dropped 64%. This historic decline includes significant progress in all 50 states and among all racial and ethnic groups.
However, despite these advances, disparities continue to exist—by age, race and ethnicity, geography and among youth from low-income families.
Our program, Quest For Change (Quest) takes a holistic approach to reach youth and communities. Our goals are to reduce existing disparities in teen pregnancy rates, STDs and other health issues among youth ages 11-19, and to promote healthy adolescent development. Supported by the OAH Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) Program, Quest works in rural Georgia to provide hard-to-reach populations with information and education about preventing teen pregnancy. Among those who have benefited from these efforts is a young woman named Alexis Law.
Alexis lives in Terrell County, Georgia, which has the highest incidence of sexually transmitted diseases in the state and a teen birth rate twice the national average. In spring 2016, when Alexis joined Quest, her parents had just separated. Understandably, this was a difficult time for her. She had always been a shy child and at this point was particularly wary of forming new relationships.
One day, Alexis spoke up in a group about something she cared about deeply. I talked to her afterwards and told her how happy I was to hear her voice in the group. The next week, she spoke up a few more times. We watched in delight as Alexis began to come out of her shell, growing more and more active in Quest’s programming.
When she was invited to become part of the organization’s Youth Leadership Council a few months later, Alexis jumped at the chance. With support from Quest For Change, Alexis recruited more than 50 youth to participate in a leadership training summit and rural health fair. She also assisted in presenting a proposal to Terrell County's local school board for approval of comprehensive sexual health education. She currently serves as President of the Youth Leadership Council and aspires to attend nursing school at Georgia Southern University in Fall 2018.
In February, this formerly reserved student was named one of 20 outstanding youth leaders in the state of Georgia. She gained statewide recognition for her peer health work at the 9th annual Georgia Youth Leadership Awards. As Alexis puts it, “It’s hard to get advice from adults, but even harder to get accurate information from my peers. It’s important to have trusted teens and adults who know what they are talking about to help—and that’s what everyone at Quest For Change is about. Teens in our community need a helping hand on this sensitive topic, and I am proud to be one of those who lend a hand.”
Alexis has blossomed into a passionate young leader among her peers. Her clarity and drive have influenced everyone around her. Terrell County could very well have been a different place without her leadership. And without Quest For Change, Alexis may never have realized the potential she had to transform her community.
Because of Alexis’ journey, her peers see that their own possibilities are limitless. From the beginning, we wanted Quest to become an authentic part of the community, and our experience with Alexis encourages us to push a little bit further. We want to build youth leaders who can sustain this message of health and empowerment.
Sustaining the Message
National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month has come to a close, but the importance of the work continues all year. Quest remains dedicated to supporting young people like Alexis in our efforts to prevent teen pregnancy across southwest Georgia. By taking a holistic, community-specific approach that engages youth directly, we can help build brighter, healthier futures for young people.
Check here to learn more about Quest for Change and the other grantees of the TPP Program.
Shaunae Motley is Director of Programs for Quest for Change, a Georgia non-profit that delivers evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs to over 1,300 youth in grades 6-12 as well as college freshmen. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.