State using community involvement for teen pregnancy problem - - The News for South Mississippi

State using community involvement for teen pregnancy problem

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When Phil Bryant became governor back in January he made a clear point about what he calls a problem across the state.

"Teen pregnancy in Mississippi must be reduced if we are to reach our full potential," Bryant told lawmakers.

Fast forward eight months and Bryant says it's happening. Through the Healthy Teens for a Better Mississippi initiative, Senator Sally Doty says community level involvement is helping to lead the charge.

"It is very important to bring everyone together from the faith based community, education community and from community based organizations because this is something we've all got to work on together," said Doty, a republican from Brookhaven.

With the state leading the nation in teen birth rates, community meetings like the one in downtown Jackson Friday are becoming a point of change. The initiative is using teens in schools across the state as advocates.

"You can imagine the peer pressure they're receiving when they go in and say we want you to live a healthy lifestyle, but they are making a difference," said Bryant.

Two of those teens are Neshoba Central High School seniors Kodi Wright and Alisha Sifuentes. They're chair and co-chair of the Youth and Youth Leaders Subcommittee.

"It's not worth losing your childhood or your youth over," said Sifuentes.

Sifuentes knows first hand the challenges of being a teen mom. That's because she became one at age 15.

"I don't want other students and teenagers to go through what I have to go through. So it's very important for me to raise awareness," said Sifuentes.

For Wright, she was born to a teenage mother and said it's not a path teenagers should take.

"It seems like you go into school and you hear people saying, 'How many weeks along are you? How far along are you?' When really we should be saying, 'How many weeks to graduation? How many weeks to prom?" said Wright.

By increasing awareness among our youth, state leaders hope the rest of the state will pay attention.

"A teen that goes through the challenges of having a child is less likely to graduate from school, less likely to get a job, more likely to be on some government program and we've just got to change those numbers," said Bryant.

"It is not necessarily a black problem or a white problem or a poor person's problem. It's everyone's problem, because you see it in all of those groups," said Doty.

Additional community meetings are set to take place across the state through next Spring.

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