Enlightening other teen-agers about sexual health and disease prevention is not something Jovan Colbert ever thought he'd be doing.
"I used to think like most people my age thought--nothing can affect me," said the 18-year-old Dorsey High School senior and a recent hire at T.H.E. Clinic's teen facility.
"But the fact of the matter is, teens are sexually active, and they don't know all the risks involved."
That pragmatic approach to sex education is what drove T.H.E. director Sylvia Drew Ivie to open a clinic for, about and run entirely by teen-agers. The clinic, which opened last week, operates on Ivie's belief that teen-agers communicate best with their peers.
"Often, teens are too shy to discuss things with the regular nurses," said Ivie, whose main clinic specializes in low-cost or free women's health care. "When I looked at all the different programs that address teens, I saw that the program that worked most was teens doing things themselves. So that's how we set it up."
The teen center is housed in a spacious back wing of the clinic at 3970 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. What was once an ad hoc conference area is now a waiting area, lounge and four individual counseling rooms where teen advocates talk privately with clients about everything from pregnancy scares to proper condom use.
The lounge, called "the living room," is a comfortable-looking space filled with overstuffed sofas and a monitor that plays informational videos.
The 14 part-time advocates, trained by the California Regional Family Planning Council, also present health workshops at schools, churches and other community centers.
Although the presentations and skits are sometimes "not taken seriously enough" by young audiences, advocate Carlton Stubbs says, the message that he and his co-workers bring is no laughing matter.
"I learned a lot about how AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases spread, and I was surprised that it's growing fastest among teen-agers," said Stubbs, of Ladera Heights.
"You always think about somebody older getting it and dying. It's important that our (black) community knows this information."
Another problem faced by the clinic was a reluctance by teen-agers, especially boys, to admit that they need help. Clinic director Auleria Eakins, 20, said the addition of male advocates helped, although girls still far outnumber boys as clients.
"The boys believe that nothing can happen to them--it's more of a macho thing," Eakins said. "They think that going to a clinic makes then look like punks, like they don't know everything. But the problem among teen-agers is all the same: They lack information."
Tylar Moore, who became an advocate with the new clinic after months of screening teen-agers at T.H.E., said she hopes the facility will encourage young people to come in before they are in trouble.
"Most of the teens were coming in because of a problem--not for information," said Moore, a 17-year-old Dorsey student who aspires to be a neurosurgeon. "But it's better now that we have our own space. We used to take people in whatever room was available."
Added Ivie: "T.H.E. means 'To Help Everyone.' We're trying to do just that."