Meet Sarah — My Teen Pregnancy Prevention Hero

Last week, I got to spend some time with Sarah Donlin. You probably don’t know Sarah, so let me tell you about her.

Sarah is the Program Coordinator for the Young Parent Program(YPP) of Youth Alternatives Ingraham. Known locally as 22 Park Avenue, YPP is a transitional living program for pregnant and parenting teens and young adults. Sarah’s office overlooks the entryway of the YPP building on the busy corner of Park Avenue and High Street in downtown Portland.  Sarah has the daunting task of providing support, supervision and programming for YPP residents and it’s clear, as she talks, that she cares deeply about them.

Sex ed has always been an essential program component of YPP.  For years, it was done by outside organizations, until budget cuts meant those organizations could no longer come to 22 Park Avenue to provide the services.

Sarah then found herself trying to offer education that she didn’t really feel qualified to provide. She remembers thinking, “I’m not trained in this. I could talk about using condoms but I didn’t know enough about all the birth control methods and I didn’t want to give them misinformation.”

But Sarah was determined to find a way. After some searching, Sarah connected with the FPA’s Teen Pregnancy Program and she now has the knowledge and skills needed to provide sex ed for 22 Park Avenue residents.  Here’s how it happened.

In July 2010, Sarah started working with Christine Letcher, one of the FPA’s Pregnancy Prevention Coordinators.  Christine helped Sarah use Getting to Outcomes, a process for choosing the most appropriate evidence-based program for any given population.

Sarah chose FOCUS. “It seemed like a good fit.” says Sarah. “It’s designed for the age range of young women we see here. Also, it’s comprehensive and draws on many aspects of sexuality. It offers a fuller definition of sexuality than some of the other programs.”

Christine trained Sarah and three social work interns at 22 Park Avenue to implement the program. This spring — equipped with curriculum, materials and client incentives provided by the FPA  — Sarah conducted FOCUS in eight weekly, one-hour sessions with the young motherss at 22 Park Avenue.

Sarah is really pleased with the program and considers it a success. “I think they (residents) liked having space to talk about this openly. With FOCUS, we created a safe space with no penalties for whatever they shared.”

Using pre- and post-program surveys, Sarah was able to document other successes.  Some program participants reported — an increase in their confidence in condoms, a decrease in their likelihood of having unprotected sexual intercourse in the next year, and increased confidence in their ability to discuss abstinence with future partners.

During the eight weeks Sarah was conducting FOCUS with 22 Park Avenue residents, she stayed in touch with Christine. “I’d give her feedback and updates on how it was going. And Christine gave me suggestions on how to handle difficult conversations and how to prevent going off on tangents.”

Sarah is happy to share some hints for anyone who plans to implement FOCUS. “Take time to fully prepare. Practice the activities and be aware of what each session covers. And definitely ask the FPA program coordinator for support if you have questions. Knowing Christine was there helped so much.”

Would she do it again?  “Oh yes!” says Sarah. In fact, she’s getting ready to conduct another eight-week FOCUS session this fall.

After spending time with Sarah at 22 Park Avenue and learning about her work there, I’ve decided that she is my new pregnancy prevention hero!

Do you have a teen pregnancy prevention hero?

~Nancy

P.S. If you’re with a school or youth-serving agency, you can apply for support through our Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.

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