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In Orange County, teen advocates work with Planned Parenthood to give peers that data they need to make informed choices


Kenny Harrison, a 17-year-old teen advocate for Planned Parenthood, stood in front of a health education class at Huntington Beach High School and posed this scenario:

"You're thinking of becoming sexually active. You have lots of questions and concerns. You want to talk to your parents about it. How do you bring up the subject?"

After a moment of awkward hesitation, two student volunteers playing a boy and his mother began improvising their responses.

Boy: "I was just wondering, how would you feel if I, uh, had sex?"

Mother: "I don't want you to. I really don't want you to. What are you going to do if you get her pregnant?"

Boy: "Well. . . ."

Mother: "Are you going to bail? What are you going to do?"

What indeed.

Teaching teenagers how to avoid having to face that question is the reason Harrison and his co-presenter, Planned Parenthood Teen Services Program coordinator Christina Weckerly, had gone to Huntington Beach High School.

Their 80-minute presentation ranged from talk of abstinence and other birth-control methods to a lively student discussion of a subject that few in the classroom had ever contemplated: How much they would have to earn to live on their own. Then came the kicker: How their budgets--and their lives--would be affected if they or their girlfriends became pregnant and they had a baby to raise.

"We just want them to consider all their options and to realize the decisions they make now--no matter what they are--will impact them in the future," Weckerly explained after class.

Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties has offered a variety of teen outreach and educational programs since it opened in 1965.

Now the nonprofit reproductive health-care agency is making its most comprehensive effort to reduce unintended teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections among young people in Orange County, and teenagers such as Harrison are playing a major role.

Harrison, a senior at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, is one of 10 teen advocates working for Planned Parenthood's Teen Services Program.

The 2-year-old educational program, funded by the state Office of Family Planning, focuses on teaching teenagers skills to be responsible not only sexually but also in other areas.

The use of teen advocates, says Planned Parenthood officials, makes their family-life education program unique in Orange County.

The teen advocates, who are paid $5.50 an hour for about 10 hours of work a week, have undergone 52 hours of training on topics that include abstinence, contraceptive use, sexually transmitted infections, the risks of alcohol and drugs, date rape, body image, healthy relationships, decision-making skills and communication skills.

The teen advocates serve as liaisons at their high schools in arranging Planned Parenthood presentations in health education classes and at school health fairs.

Some assist Weckerly and her fellow Teen Services Program coordinator, Kristen Woolever, with classroom presentations. In April, the teen advocates conducted workshops at Teenwork '97 in Anaheim, an annual conference on substance abuse and other adolescent issues.

Other teen advocates work in the weekly teen clinics that are offered at all five Planned Parenthood medical centers in Orange County. The after-school teen clinics provide an opportunity for anyone 19 and under to come in without an appointment.

Teen advocates who qualify to work in the medical centers have undergone on-site clinical training for at least six months. They meet with the teenage clients, providing them with information on birth-control methods and the options that are available if they are pregnant.

"The teens feel more comfortable talking to someone their own age," said Maria Elena Cuevas-Avila, manager of the Planned Parenthood medical center in Anaheim, where 15 to 30 teenagers typically show up during the weekly teen clinic hours. About 50% come in for pregnancy testing, she said, and 50% for birth control.

Teen advocates also serve as sex-education resources at their schools, informally answering classmates' questions about sex-related issues and Planned Parenthood's services.

They also hand out Planned Parenthood information cards, including one that can be turned in at the medical clinics for a "safety sack"--a paper bag containing condoms and educational information such as a pamphlet titled "You're Not Ready to Have Sex If. . . "


Sunny Haberman, manager of Planned Parenthood's health education department in Santa Ana, said the teen advocates give credibility to the educational programs.

"Teens tend to ask their peers more than their parents about sexuality issues, anatomy and physiology issues, dating and relationships. So if you can have educated peers, then those [other] kids--most of whom aren't educated in these areas--will have an accurate resource."

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