In Florida, Youth Leadership and Teen Pregnancy Prevention Go Hand in Hand

A sister hugging her brotherLast spring, a sister and brother arrived at their local teen pregnancy prevention course and didn’t pay much attention in class. A few months later, the two were shaking hands with Florida legislators and discussing leadership strategies and prevention policy with them during a visit to the State House in Tallahassee.

The transformation came about after their participation in a youth leadership council, one of many activities offered by partners of the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition through its Family and Youth Services Bureau’s Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) grant. PREP takes a holistic approach to teen pregnancy prevention, incorporating adulthood preparation topics and youth empowerment into programming. For the coalition, that means giving young people structured leadership opportunities.

Erin Addington, the Coalition’s Teen Health Project Director, says the Coalition decided to focus on leadership because many of its participants come from small communities and families where teen pregnancy is not unusual. Joining a leadership council is a chance for young people to see a world beyond their immediate surroundings and recognize their full potential, she says, which can help them develop healthier lifestyles and behaviors. Youth also become part of the solution, planning teen pregnancy prevention activities meant to appeal to their peers.

For many youth, it’s their first chance to be, and be seen as, leaders.

“They come from a single-parent home and basically helped raise a lot of their young siblings,” Addington says of her star pair. “Over time they blossomed into real examples of what kind of potential these young people have.”

More than 60 young people participated in leadership councils in 2013. A new leadership council session, with a new cohort of youth, is just getting started.

How It Works

Young people throughout the Tallahassee area participate through the coalition’s PREP subgrantees, which include housing authorities and Boys & Girls Clubs and other local youth-serving organizations. Teens first get six hours of classroom meetings during which adult facilitators use an evidence-based curriculum called Teen Health Project to lead discussions about pregnancy prevention and sexual health.

After completing their hours, youth can apply for spots on the local leadership council. Facilitators choose participants based on attendance in the classroom sessions, behavior, and the life goals that young people share in their written applications. Once on the council, youth are tasked with educating their peers about sexual health and personal responsibility. They have about six months to coordinate a final project.

Youth who are not chosen for the councils benefit from the education and activities council members put together.

A few of the groups have given presentations and held game nights. Others have put on health fairs and an HIV testing event that attracted over 40 community members. No matter the project, Addington says it has to be almost entirely youth-driven, from brainstorming through completion.

“It helps build their skills to call up a director of a community center and ask to use the space,” she says. “They develop the games, promote the event, and do the heavy lifting. The emphasis is on educating the community. We want them to be leaders of their peers and the source of accurate information.”