PITTSFIELD -- The president and CEO of the Berkshire United Way has outlined a plan to decrease the county's high teenage pregnancy rate at least 10 percent by 2016.
Thursday morning before a crowd of Berkshire County stakeholders, Kristine Hazzard said the plan will educate parents, raise awareness about the high rate of teenage pregnancy, and use resources to leverage cooperation.
"Face the Facts -- Reduce Teen Pregnancy" is the initiative being organized with health and human service providers, doctors, teachers and business and community leaders.
Hazzard said the 10 percent reduction in the teen pregnancy rate is possible, a goal backed by measures of public health issue changes by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Warnings about the county's teenage pregnancy rate have been raised for years, but statistics from the state Department of Public Health show the rate continues to climb, while the rest of the state's hasn't.
According to the DPH, the state's teen pregnancy rate dropped 31 percent from 1996 to 2009, but Berkshire County's increased 18 percent.
In Pittsfield, the teen pregnancy rate is at the second highest rate since 1996, at 55.1 percent. Pittsfield's teenage pregnancy rate is eighth highest in the state, according to Hazzard.
Hazzard said the problem is rooted in a lack of "hope, dreams, and aspirations" among young adults. She called on communities to pay attention to opportunities for young
State Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and William "Smitty" Pignatelli, nonprofit leaders and others also joined the gathering at Berkshire Medical Center's Bishop Clapp building.
Recalling a conversation with her 15-year-old daughter, Farley-Bouvier said her daughter has already heard about sexual activity at school.
"It's happening a lot younger these days," Farley-Bouvier said.
Raised in a Catholic family, Farley-Bouvier said it's against natural instincts to discuss sex education with her daughters, but she knows better than not to do so.
"I have to constantly tell myself to get over it," Farley-Bouvier said.
The campaign has already started in earnest with two billboards in Pittsfield. A billboard is expected in Great Barrington later this month.
The Berkshire United Way, which supports 19 south and central Berkshire youth organizations, said requests for proposals funding made available every two years would be contingent on incorporating sexual health education components.
Program officer Kelley Marion, of the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center, said almost half of the 3,000 people the center works with earn below $22,000 a year.
With parents consumed with work, there isn't always time to focus on children's long-term goals when the short-term is so precarious.
"The teen pregnancy rate is going higher, not lower," Marion said. "Everyone needs to take a stand. Not one school system. Not one agency. It's going to take a comprehensive collective approach to bring down that number."
To reach John Sakata:
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