- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2003

   Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington has developed an outreach program for youths that relies on help from community groups to help them deal with sex-related problems and questions.
   The program officially begins Wednesday at the group’s Ophelia Egypt Center in Northeast in conjunction with the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
   Virginia Martin, a Planned Parenthood vice president, said the program was designed to delay teens’ having sex, prevent teen pregnancy, stop the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and provide a place for teens to ask questions comfortably. Free reproductive-health and birth-control services and information are also available at the clinic.
   The program is open to D.C. residents ages 15 to 25 and takes place the first Saturday of every month from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and the third Wednesday of every month from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
   Teens can meet with a health educators and clinic staff, and participate in group discussions.
   Counselors will also offer age-specific help.
   “I have my own vision in my head of who should be having sex and who shouldn’t,” said nurse Linda Duquette-Petersen. “And I don’t think an 11-year-old should be, so I just have to get over my own judgement.”
   In school workshops requested by the middle schools, staffers often focus on anatomy and the problem of low self-esteem, considered a major reason so many young girls agree to have sex.
   Planned Parenthood officials said they developed the program with the help of about 10 community organizations, including several churches and youth groups because teens are comfortable with going to those places.
   “This is combining outreach with education to get the teens in here,” Ms. Martin said. “Give access to these young people in a safe environment. They can come to us with the difficult questions that they may not feel comfortable asking in another setting.”
   George Young, youth minister at St. Paul’s Christian Community Church in the District, worked with Planned Parenthood to provide teens with sexual health information at a workshop Friday and plans to offer similar programs.
   “I speak first on what God says as far as Christians are concerned, then [Planned Parenthood] comes in to give some of the practical information about sexual heath and the statistics,” he said yesterday.
   Though he advocates abstinence, Mr. Young said teens need a combination of safe-sex information and information about the “damage they’re doing to themselves spiritually.”
    “We don’t hand out condoms in the church,” he said. “But the reality is they’re going to have sex. … There are folks out there dying, and for the church to step back and not present a complete picture they’re selling folks short.”
   Ms. Martin said the program stresses abstinence followed by birth-control options. Though options such as prenatal care, adoption and termination of pregnancy are discussed, the program focuses on preventive measures.
   “It would be awkward to have a conversation about adoption if you’re trying to get them to not have sex,” said Julie Rosenthal, Planned Parenthood spokeswoman.
   In the District, 53.4 percent of the female students and 71.7 percent of the males ages 14 to 18 have had sexual intercourse. Though the teen-pregnancy rate in the District has declined since 1999, the birth rate for girls ages 15 to 19 is more than twice the national average, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
   Staff members said the program is a continuation of those offered in schools, in which the staff stresses the importance of maintaining reproductive health. The new program, they said, helps teens follow counselors’ advice.
   “A lot of these teens have never been to the doctor at all,” Ms. Martin said. “This is a way to communicate that you’re going to be taken care of by someone who understands they’re talking to a young patient, not just a patient. It’s a scary thing. I think we all remember our first GYN visit.”
   Planned Parenthood officials said that before starting the program they also held focus groups to learn teens’ perspectives on sex education. The program is paid for by a $75,000 grant from the Summit Fund, a group formed to prevent teen pregnancy in the District and restore the Anacostia River. Planned Parenthood hopes to treat 340 female and 160 male teenagers by December 2003 and is seeking money to extend the program, said Evita Grigsby, a Planned Parenthood vice president.
   She said parents have been supportive of the clinic. One father dropped off his son and told him not to call home until he had information about preventing pregnancy and STDs, she said.
   “I think that parents are looking for other resources besides schools and themselves and faith-based organizations.” Ms. Martin said. “A lot of times adults removed from the environment don’t know a lot of the medical information.”

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