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Shift NC Forum To Address Adolescent Health

On Jan. 26, SHIFT NC (Sexual Health Initiatives For Teens) will conduct its annual “State of Adolescent Health” forum at Deep River Event Center, 606 Millwood School Road, in Greensboro. The forum brings together those who work in adolescent health as well as parents and leaders in nonprofit, school and faith communities from across the state to discuss strides North Carolina has made in addressing adolescent health and needs that still present challenges. This year’s theme is “Statewide Vision, Local Impact.”

The world can be a scary place, especially for young people trying to navigate their way to adulthood. Unfortunately, today’s teens often do not have the tools to help them plot the right course. Sometimes adult role models, either out of fear or ignorance, fail to offer the proper guidance, especially when dealing with adolescent sexuality.

Jean Workman, SHIFT NC director of development and an Adams Farm resident, said this year’s forum looks at the successes of Gaston Youth Connected and how those can be applied in other communities. Gaston Youth Connected was one of the nation’s first community-wide initiatives to reduce teen pregnancy.

Funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2010 to 2015, Gaston Youth Connected provided new lessons on how North Carolina and the nation can address adolescent health. The initiative achieved its two primary goals of reducing the county’s teen pregnancy rate by at least 10 percent by 2015 and developing infrastructures that can support evidence-based pregnancy prevention strategies, including program services integrated with clinical services. Three years into the project, Gaston County’s teen pregnancy rate had fallen by more than 40 percent.

“We want to highlight our successful outcomes from Gaston Youth Connected and the lessons learned from that with the goal of inspiring folks to think about these evidence-based strategies and how we can take on either all of it or pieces of it in our own communities to make a difference,” said Workman.

The Foundation for a Healthy High Point is already working on making a difference in that community. The foundation aims to examine health issues and identify evidence-based practices to improve health and wellness in Greater High Point. Under the leadership of executive director Tina Markanda, the foundation adopted teen pregnancy prevention as an area to tackle. Markanda will speak at the SHIFT NC forum to explain why this issue is important and what the foundation will be doing to combat the problem.

Fortunately, teen pregnancy rates in the state have decreased over the past 30 years because of the work of Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign North Carolina (APPCNC). In 1985, maternity nurse Barbara Huberman walked into a Charlotte hospital room where a 10-year-old sat coloring while her newborn baby lay beside her. Huberman was appalled that children could be having children. She pulled together concerned people from across the state and formed APPCNC.

“In 1985, teen pregnancy rates were really high,” said Workman. “I was in 10th grade in 1985 and there was no sexuality education. I can remember school newspapers that talked a lot about abstinence until marriage with lots of shaming messages, and HIV was on the brink.

“APPCNC came along and did a lot of training on ways to teach sexuality education in the schools, how to work with policy leaders and how to get policies changed. For 30 years, the teen pregnancy rate dropped, 67 percent since its highest peak in 1991. We know our work has been extremely successfully.”

Because the teen pregnancy rate has dropped, APPCNC took a critical look at its focus and determined it should become broader and more holistic. Last year, APPCNC changed its name to SHIFT NC and its mission to reflect those views. Today it continues the mission of teen pregnancy prevention but also is dedicated to improving adolescent sexual health by promoting access to reproductive and sexual health care, not just contraception.

The SHIFT NC forum aims to provide information for those invested in teaching and caring for all young people to ensure they grow up healthy.

“Sexuality is such a comprehensive topic,” said Workman. “It’s not just whether I’m a boy or a girl, or who do I like, or how do I express by gender. It truly is a piece of all of who you are, but it’s not the only part. It certainly is an extraordinary part of who you are and it’s certainly worth protecting and embracing in a respectful way.

“We hope people will look at this topic and question how it is affecting their community and how they can bring together their school, faith and business communities to do more for our young people.”

(For more information about SHIFT NC and the upcoming forum, visit www.shiftnc.org.)

To view the original article written by the Jamestown News, please click here.

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