Nonprofit to share teen pregnancy prevention message with boys and girls

After more than a decade of working with women to combat the spread of HIV, a West Baltimore nonprofit organization will now share its teen pregnancy prevention message with both girls and boys.

Women Accepting Responsibility has worked with teen girls, new mothers and incarcerated women since 1995, but the programs were always gender-specific.

But the group celebrated a more than $4 million grant Tuesday from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Adolescent Health that will allow it to reach young men as well.

Young women in their programs report that they understand the pregnancy prevention message, said Bernice Tucker, the group's founder and executive director.

However, "they go back to their significant others and have a hard time" putting it into action, she said.

"Now they'll both be getting this," Tucker said. "Both are going to be getting the tools to make different choices."

The funding comes from a $75 million grant program intended to support programs that research has shown to be effective at reducing teen pregnancy.

The Baltimore group will be using the Becoming a Responsible Team, or BART, curriculum, which was tested in Jackson, Miss. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a significant percentage of the 245 teens enrolled in the program reported being less sexually active than their peers after a year. Fewer kids said they started being sexually active and more said they used condoms.

Baltimore ranks fifth for most reported HIV cases, according to the CDC, Tucker said. And African-American families disproportionately carry the burden of HIV and AIDS here, she said. According to the city health department, nearly 100 percent of girls ages 13 to 19 living with HIV or AIDS are African-American, she said.

WAR will attempt to reach 1,164 teens over the five-year grant period through an after-school program at three Northwest Baltimore high schools, as well as a summer program that will recruit participants from neighborhoods such as Forest Park, Garwyn Oaks, Windsor Hills and Walbrook Junction.

The goal is to instruct teens about prevention and sexual risk reduction, delay the start of sexual activity and increase contraceptive use, ultimately reducing the teen pregnancy rate.

With the grant money, WAR will also hire eight more employees, bringing their total staff to 20, Tucker said. Staff training is underway, and the program will begin in January 2011, she said.

Tucker became a mother herself at 16. She started Women Accepting Responsibility after the death of her daughter, who was diagnosed with HIV when pregnant. Tucker's granddaughter is now 20 years old, she said.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who attended the event, praised Tucker's work, saying that many people who have a dream approach him for help, but few have a plan. He said programs such as these allow women to grow up and have children at an appropriate age. "It's about somebody being able to grow up and have a child at an age where they can be most responsible and lift that child up so that child can be all that God meant for them to be," he said.

"I am tired of our people going backwards, of child doing worse than mother, of child doing worse than grandmother and mother," he said. "We have to stop that negative cycle."

liz.kay@baltsun.com

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