In Rural South Carolina, a Town Unites Around Teen Pregnancy Prevention

Photograph of buildings in a small town.Denmark, SC, resembles many small, southern towns. It has towering trees and red brick churches, mom-and-pop businesses, one elementary school, one high school and one middle school.

What might surprise a visitor is the way the town has turned sometimes taboo topics into daily conversation. In Denmark, sex education is everyone’s business.

“We try to involve everyone—the churches, the schools, the businesses, the parents… so that everyone is sending the same messages to the kids,” says Michelle Nimmons, a Denmark school administrator.

Cardboard fans in the churches list the top ten ways congregants can combat teen pregnancy. Table tents in the booths of local restaurants stress the importance of giving teens straight facts about pregnancy and contraception. Laundromats, barber shops and beauty parlors set out bowls of free condoms. Nimmons and her colleagues put out a quarterly newsletter about teen sexual health and run monthly pregnancy prevention ads in the local Advertiser-Herald. Nimmons also organizes four to five parent-child evenings each school year to help parents teach their children about self-esteem, communication, relationships and sexual health.

The intense community effort was born 30 years ago, says Nimmons, when Denmark and surrounding Bamberg County had the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state. Over the decades, the town has seen impressive change. In July 2006, the Wall Street Journal’s front page lauded Bamberg County for reversing its pregnancy trends, which continue to drop. From 2009 to 2010, teen pregnancy rates dropped 19 percent.

“We have worked so long and hard on this issue,” Nimmons says. “Everyone here has seen how the work we do has influenced the lives of the kids in their community.”