- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2002

Staff writer Denise Barnes interviewed Brenda Miller, founder and executive director of the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.


Question:
How serious a problem is teen pregnancy in the District?
Answer:
It's an enormous problem in the District. In fact, although the rates have been going down for some time, in 1999, [based on the most recent data] they took a turn for the worse.
So currently, the 1999 data are 134 [teen pregnancies] per thousand [women], which is up from the 1998 numbers. For example, if you put eight young women in a room, one would be pregnant. In essence, there are enough pregnant teens every year to fill a high school. This means we must redouble our efforts and work harder to get more people involved in helping to prevent teen pregnancies.
The District has the highest teen pregnancy rate among the 50 states, and the United States has the highest rate in the developed world. So the rate in this country is higher than Germany, France, Japan, Switzerland. And the District's rate is about twice the national average.
It's a citywide problem and a problem that we must deal with as a city. Nationally, we know four in 10 girls will be pregnant at least once before they are 20 years old. It's a problem that affects everyone in the nation and everyone in our community.
Q:
How did the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy get started?
A:
There were two threads [at work] at the same time. A Mayor's Committee to Reduce Teen Pregnancy and Out of Wedlock Births was established due to welfare reform in the late 1990s. It consisted of 80 individuals and organizations that met over the course of two years. They decided to form a permanent organization that focused on teen pregnancy prevention.
At the same time, a group of local foundations which included the Summit Fund of Washington, the Stewart Trust, the Graham Fund and the Cafritz Foundation, was also trying to work with the District to see how it could be more supportive of teen pregnancy prevention. So those two threads came together to form the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. We're a private, nonprofit organization, whose mission is to reduce the teen pregnancy rate in the District by 50 percent by 2005.
Q:
What is your group doing to stop teen pregnancy?
A:
We're trying to get everyone in the community involved. We provide monthly training for parents, which is called "How to Talk to Your Child about Love, Sex and Relationships," and that's our parent-peer education project which started 18 months ago.
We also have a new initiative called "Have Faith in Youth." We are asking churches to open their doors one night a week to teens in their neighborhoods for mentoring and tutoring. This goes back to what I said earlier, in terms of every child needing a reliable, trusted adult in their lives. And what better place than a religious institution to turn to for guidance and motivation.
We are suggesting they open one night a week as a way to provide a place for teens that is safe. I tell people all the time: I live off Georgia Avenue, and when I drive home, I see churches, liquor stores and carryouts guess which ones are open? The liquor stores and the carryouts, and that's where groups of teen-agers hang out. Look around the District and you won't find any bowling alleys or skating rinks. You have to ask yourself, what do we give youth that's constructive and well supervised?
Q:
How can your group help reduce teen pregnancies in the city by 50 percent by 2005?
A:
We can accomplish this goal by mentoring helping children do well in school. Youth have to have a reason to plan for a future. They must believe they can have a future.
If a child can do well in school, develop a relationship with someone they can talk with and an adult who plans interesting activities for the two of them to do together, the child will develop skills and self-confidence. You have to ask yourself, who helped me and got me through? How can we do any less for this next generation of teens?
Q:
Is your group exclusively geared toward young women?
A:
No. We work with both boys and girls alike.
The first thing we did when the campaign started was to host a roundtable about boys health titled, "Boys to Men: Improving Access to Health Care." We had several panels of experts talk about health care and their research about boys and young men.
We also had a panel of young men, ages 15 to 17, from around the city participate in the roundtable. The young men, who were black, white and Hispanic, talked candidly about their day-to-day lives. They said their No. 1 problem was stress.
For starters, they said they would get put off buses if they were making too much noise, only one to two of them could go into a store at a time, they were always getting hassled on the street by the police, the public and people looked at them with fear in their eyes and treated them like criminals. The boys talked about how bad this treatment made them feel.
The roundtable panel was an eye-opener. We realized how important it is to reach out to boys and young men based on their needs and concerns so they could be included in the discussions.
Q:
Does your group host forums where youth can express themselves among their peers and receive feedback from adults?
A:
We have a Youth Task Force that meets on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month here at D.C. Campaign offices.
The boys especially enjoy attending the meetings. They develop leadership skills while getting approval for doing the right thing. Youth between the ages of 14 to 18 who may be interested in joining the Youth Task Force, just need to give us a call. We encourage everyone to stay in school, and students receive community service credit for participating. We even have some youth who are currently studying for their GEDs.
We also host Teen Town Hall meetings several times a year. A group of teen-agers gets together and tells us what's going on in their world and in their lives. It's important if you are an organization that works on social issues to hear from the people who are most directly involved. So these Teen Town Hall meetings are a way for us to keep abreast of what is going on in the lives of young people.
Q:
How does someone get involved with the campaign?
A:
Just give us a call. We will set up an interview to find out what the individual most enjoys. People have called us to say they can proofread or answer the telephones or work on research projects for us. And, if a person's interested in mentoring a child, we will refer them to a mentoring organization.
In addition to the Youth Task Force, we have four other task forces: a Religion and Public Values Task Force, a Business Task Force, a Local Programs and Research Task Force and a Media and Entertainment Task Force. If someone has an interest, we'd really like to meet and talk with them. Right now, we're really eager to get churches to participate in our newest initiative "Have Faith in Youth."

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