Here at the FPA, every day is devoted to the prevention of teen and unplanned pregnancy. Our clinical staff, prevention staff, legislative advocacy staff, and the administrative staff that keep the business side of things going are all committed to helping women and men plan their families and avoid unwanted pregnancy.
But what about all the folks who aren’t doing teen pregnancy prevention work as part of their day job — is there anything the average person can do?
By way of answering that question, I’d like to tell you about Jessie.
I met Jessie (not her real name) through a mentoring program in my hometown. She is a bright, articulate, fun-to-be-with 11 year old. Because her family faces multiple challenges, Jessie’s school counselor recommended her for the program. We first met nearly a year ago at the home she shares with her brother, mom, and step-dad.
Once a week, I pick Jessie up in the late afternoon and we spend several hours together. Occasionally, we share a special weekend activity or have a sleepover at my home. In good weather we’re likely to be outdoors – hiking local trails, playing ball at the school playground, or building sandcastles at the beach. When the weather is bad, you’ll find us inside doing crafts, reading, playing board games, or watching a movie together. And while we’re taking part in all of these activities, we’re talking. We talk about school and friends; we talk about family — hers and mine; we talk about my work and her dreams for her future.
At the age of 11, Jessie isn’t yet into the dating scene but I know it’s in her not-so-distant future. And because I work at the FPA, I’m keenly aware that Jessie could become one of the 43 out of 1,000 Maine teens girls who get pregnant each year. That’s one of the reasons I am committed to mentoring Jessie for as long as she’s interested.
I’m happy to stand among the other adults in her life — teachers, counselors, parents, and grandparents — providing the support she needs to thrive and to successfully navigate the journey to adulthood.
Research shows that providing age-appropriate, medically-accurate sex education and access to confidential sexual health services contribute to reduced rates of teen pregnancy. We’ve seen that here in Maine and that’s why the FPA provides the services we do. And, increasingly, there are great online tools designed to help kids make healthy decisions. Like this new online quiz from the National Campaign.
Young people certainly need accurate information and access to services but they also need something more. They need to believe that they are worthwhile individuals who can work towards and have a bright future. I hope that’s what my small contribution to Jessie’s life does for her. And I hope it helps to safeguard her from too-early pregnancy.
That’s my personal teen pregnancy prevention story — trying to make a difference in the life of one young person. I’d love to hear about what you’re doing for the ‘Jessie’ in your life.