Event aims to reduce Berkshire teen pregnancy through awareness


PITTSFIELD -- Almost 80 people kept the safe sex and pregnancy prevention conversations going Monday evening with discussions, games and questions that will educate, inform and, ultimately, maintain the downward trend of teen pregnancies.

Face the Facts: Reduce Teen Pregnancy hosted "Let's Talk About Sex," a community conversation in which officials shared statistics and geared conversation toward preventing teen pregnancy and the spread of diseases.

Face the Facts is a coalition within Berkshire United Way that started in 2009.

"It was a call to action, given the pregnancy statistics," said Karen Cole, the youth development coordinator at Berkshire United Way. "Previous prevention programs were not that active."

In 2011, more than 70 percent of teens in Berkshire County admitted to being sexually active. Of those, 19 percent said they didn't use protection or contraceptives, according to Kristine Hazzard, the president of Berkshire United Way.

The number of pregnant teens in Pittsfield from 2009 to 2010 decreased, Hazzard said.

"For some teens, they're more comfortable learning peer-to-peer," she said. "We need to reach as many as we can, and in many different ways. We're the myth busters."

Few teens present

Overwhelmingly, however, those who attended Monday's conversation were not teenagers, but teachers, parents and health officials.

"I feel more teens should have been here," said Caleigh Hodgens, 15. "It's hard for the parents, but teens should be able to talk to their parents about sex."

Hodgens was one of the members of Teen Outreach Program (TOP) who played a "Jeopardy"-style quiz game at one of the stations at the community conversation.

"We still have a taboo idea that it can't be talked about," said Sarah Gillooly, the program director at Girls, Inc., an organization funded by Berkshire United Way. Gillooly oversaw the "Jeopardy" game, and another game where participants pulled Hershey Kisses at random as a way to demonstrate the likelihood of getting pregnant without using protection.

Sarah Perez McAdoo, an OB/GYN and founder of the Holyoke-based YEAH! Network, another teen pregnancy initiative, was the conversation's keynote speaker.

‘Multiple methods' at play

Teen pregnancy rates have slightly decreased in Holyoke as well, McAdoo said. Several factors -- knowledge, education and talking openly with teens about sex and consequences -- have contributed to that.

"What's key is that there are multiple methods happening at the same time," McAdoo said. "Not one strategy is going to permanently reduce the rate."

McAdoo also led a workshop on practices and strategies to reduce teen pregnancy rates.

A presentation on the impact that today's social and commercial media has, and a listening session by the Mass Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, were also activities available. Teenagers were involved in each one.

"It's really important to include the youth," Cole said. "You can't come up with the solution unless you hear their issues."

To reach Adam Poulisse:
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