Idea Leader: Alma Secundino
Location: Venice, CA
Partner Organization: Boys & Girls Club of Venice
Project Summary: Alma Secundino, 18, organized a group of teens with support from the Boys and Girls Club of Venice after learning that 1 out of 2 Latina teens will get pregnant, making attaining high school diploma more difficult. A key aspect of the 10 week pregnancy prevention program was keeping it supportive and real versus judgmental and preachy.
Boys and Girls Clubs Members Devise Project to Target Teen Pregnancy
Every Thursday, a group of teens at the Boys and Girls Club of Venice meet to talk about teen pregnancy and how sex plays a role in their life. Girls PACT (Prevention Against Childbearing Teens) pioneered by Michelle Shegda, Education Director at the Boys & Girls Club of Venice, had its beginnings in the Spring of 2010 when eight 11th grade Venice High School Latina students noticed, with concern, the high prevalence of friends and acquaintances dropping out of school due to pregnancy.
“We decided to get together and learn more about the problem and decide what we could do as part of the solution,” said Alma Secundino, a project leader.
National Reports from 2009 confirmed their observations stating that one out of two Latina teens will get pregnant. The girls also learned that Latinas have the highest teen birthrates of any ethnic group in the nation. For a school with a population of 2,271 and 68 percent are Latino—a shocking 772 students are at risk of becoming a teen parent!
Brenda Garcia, Angelica Juan, Sonia Morales and Alma Secundino set in motion Girls PACT, a 10-week pregnancy prevention initiative, in an effort to combat these startling statistics. They wanted their peers to have an opportunity to receive valuable information, advice and mentorship from trusted adults regarding sex, prevention and pregnancy.
“Our hope was that by learning about the consequences of sex, there would be more chances of waiting and increasing the use of birth control,” said one of the founding members.
Their goal was to arm teens with skills and methods to prevent pregnancy, encouraging them to earn a higher education and develop a career plan. By emphasizing the need for future planning, the program would impact the actions and decisions that teens make, and cause a change in the number of dropouts. If just one out of 10 participants beats her odds of a teen pregnancy, the program would have significant impact on the startling, .3 in 10 girls in the US get pregnant at least once before the age of 20, as noted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
The ideas evolved and the program quickly came to fruition. The founders heavily recruited and prepared in September for its first 10-week session, scheduled for October. The girls passed out flyers and lollipops on campus at lunchtime and coordinated times with teachers to speak in classes. While the initial plan was to target Latina girls in Venice High School specifically, Girls PACT founders quickly realized the need to invite girls from neighboring high schools. Students at Animo Venice Charter High School, Culver City High School, and Hamilton High School, were facing the teen pregnancy and drop out issue, as well. Consequently, Girls PACT adjusted its reach to include ALL high school girls – those that are abstaining from sex, having sex, thinking about sex, curious about sex, talking about sex and misinformed about sex. Whatever the significance that sex had in their life, every girl would have the opportunity to benefit from the program.
Meetings are nothing like your typical high school Sexual Education Classes. In consideration of the complex problem of teenage pregnancy, the nature and content of the meetings created awareness of sexual responsibility, including the physical, emotional, financial, familial, societal, academic, and psychological implications of its action. Relationship dynamics (communication, friendship, love, partner pressuring, date rape), STDs and contraception, goal-setting, and educated decision-making, were some of the topics covered and further enhanced by media resources, guest speakers, role playing, and community service projects.
Upon review of completing the first 10-week program, Girls PACT re-evaluated its ability to attract and retain high school girls for the length of the 10-week program. Its founders brainstormed ways to use incentives, and maximize its outreach. The founders implemented weekly raffle drawings for $10 gift cards to Bath & Body Works, AMC Theatre and Starbucks.
Additionally, they increased the possible number of community service hours awarded to 40, which is the number of hours high school students need to graduate. For example, each participant was encouraged to bring a new friend each meeting to earn an additional one hour a week for recruiting efforts. Also, two Girls PACT student representatives were assigned to each school to advocate for the program. Finally, the 10-week program was adjusted to invite boys to three out of the 10 meetings in effort for partners to acknowledge the consequences of sex.
Accordingly, the new program was outlined with seven weeks targeted to girls only:
Don‘t Shortchange yourself (Goal Setting)
Friendship & More (Respectful & Supportive Relationships)
True Love (Values)
Consent vs. Assault (Date Rape, Party Situations, Role Playing)
Partner Pressure (Saying No)
Real Life (Single Teen Mom)
Girls Night Out (Culmination)
There are also three weeks targeted to a co-ed group:
Poor Mama (Cost of having a child)
Contraceptives and STDs (Planned Parenthood)
Real Life (Teen Parents)
A key aspect of Girls PACT is keeping the program supportive and real versus judgmental and preachy. Subjects and topics were approached with an exonerating tone throughout the programs participants may feel comfortable sharing their own personal experiences.
“We developed respect and showed a lot of mutual support as we started to open up with one another,” said Mariela Ramirez.
“I guess I never knew so much about myself,” commented Ivette Flores, when asked how the program has impacted her.
Participants have responded positively to engaging and insightful learning experiences that built awareness of the real implications of becoming pregnant.
“I like the 'Poor Mama' session,” mentioned Liz Zamora, who was shocked at hearing the figures for the expense a child incurs in its first year ($12,000) alone.
Mariela Ramirez agrees after having the experience of buying diapers, onesies, bibs, bottles, wipes and the like for Girls PACT Cares community service project that aids teen moms. Realizing the importance of being responsible about sex and learning about prevention in a Real Life‘ session, Krystal Woodruff mentioned she “learned about being safe and how troublesome things can happen when you are unsafe."
Girls PACT faced challenges along the way. One in particular was convincing participants to visit the Boys & Girls Club of Venice for the weekly meetings. The Boys & Girls Clubs name carries a child-like connotation, making it unappealing to teens. To combat the negative image, teens were enticed with community service hours. Also, the founders learned to take ownership of the program and better sell it succinctly and effectively to inspire friends, enemies and frenemies, alike, to visit.
One of the many successes of the program was Girls PACT Cares, the community service project component of the program. As part of community outreach for the Fall, the group decided to sell raffle tickets, at their respective high school, for two admission tickets to Magic Mountain, donated by the Boys & Girls Club of Venice. The $141 raised was used to purchase diapers and necessities for four teen moms, all acquaintances of the group. In the Spring, the group selected fabric, cut patterns, hand-stitched lining and used sewing machines to make eight “Baby Bags,” each customized by the seamstress and filled with baby necessities such as diapers, wipes, lotions, bottles, bibs and toys. The packages were completed with a message such as “Bundle of Joy” and “Handle With Care” and then given to a teen who was expecting or already a new mother. All recipients were friends or acquaintances of girls in the group.
Israel Garcia, a soon-to-be dad, exclaimed, “Thank you! The baby‘s due soon and we need to stock up on diapers. And, it‘s not only a baby bag, it‘s also a man purse!”
Not only has Girls PACT raised awareness about teen pregnancy, it has grown into a program that creates a safe space for honest dialogue and the opportunity to confront the issues that threaten our youth. Girls PACT has extended themselves to their peers and helped over 30 teens realize the permanent consequences that may arise from teenage pregnancy. After eight successful months of programming, Girls PACT plans to continue meeting at the Boys & Girls Club of Venice during the summer and throughout the 2011-2012 school year. “Not Another Statistic” is the dictum used to stimulate Girls PACT participants. With the continued support of teachers, volunteers and community organizations, Girls PACT looks forward to seeing more teens realize that they have the power to change their outcomes.