Hi! My name is Sheila Bressler and I am the Berks County Child and Adolescent Service System Program (CASSP) Coordinator. Part of my job here at the County of Berks involves identifying unmet needs in the community for children, youth and families and then making recommendations for services or programs to address those unmet needs. Several years ago, the high rate of teen pregnancy in Berks County was brought to my attention…..
Knowing that this was an issue that needed community collaboration, in December 2011, I, along with Nadine Smet-Weiss from Co-County Wellness Services and an amazing dedicated group of local individuals formed a Teen Pregnancy Prevention Workgroup. The goal of this workgroup was to help raise awareness in the Berks County community about teen pregnancy while working to implement prevention efforts. The workgroup focused on improving parent/caregiver and youth communication, providing youth sexual health education, and increasing awareness about teen pregnancy among the medical community.
For the next 3 ½ years, the Workgroup met on a monthly basis and accomplished numerous things. Surveys and focus groups with youth, parents and professionals, led us to a better understanding of teen pregnancy and helped shape our activities. Funding was secured from the Wyomissing Foundation, United Way of Berks County and the Power of the Purse which helped to fund our activities and allowed Co-County Wellness to contract with Dr. Jen May, an expert in the field of adolescent sexual health.
Some of the accomplishments of the workgroup included:
• Delivery of the “Making a Difference” and “Making Proud Choices” curricula at local Olivet’s Boys and Girls Clubs
• Creation of several podcasts which are still available on the Co-County Wellness website and include open dialogues with teens and local medical providers about teen pregnancy
• Public showing of the movie “Let’s Talk About Sex”
• Partnering with Reading Health Systems to bring national speaker Al Vernecchio to Berks County to talk with parents and professionals about teen pregnancy
• Partnering with Metamorphosis, a Reading based theater production company, to create “Start the Conversations.” This interactive theater experience was created to help parents/caregivers feel more comfortable talking with their teens about sexual health and was attended by over 100 parents and youth.
The Workgroup continued to meet through the initial formation of what is, today, Berks Teens Matter. In May 2015 it was decided that the continued development of Berks Teens Matter, and the youth of Berks County, would be best served by merging the Workgroup with Berks Teens Matter. Realizing the prevention of teen pregnancy would require a larger community response – a collective effort – in order to have a meaningful and lasting impact, Berks Teens Matter was born. Many of the original Workgroup members still participate in Berks Teens Matter and their knowledge and expertise is invaluable to this initiative.
I am grateful to Co-County Wellness Services, those amazing dedicated Workgroup members, and the wonderful Berks Teens Matter members for their commitment to reducing teen pregnancy by 40% in Berks County by 2022. Our youth, our families and our community will continue to benefit from your time and hard work. By working together, we will continue to show everyone that Berks Teens Matter!