United Way works to reduce teen pregnancy

The United Way began a media campaign in 2006 to reduce the number of births to teenaged mothers in the city.,”Community and civic leaders, health officials and businesses are behind the United Way of Greater Milwaukee's effort to reduce teen pregnancy in the city.

The United Way began a media campaign in 2006 to reduce the number of births to teenaged mothers in the city. In 2006, 16.4 percent of all births in Milwaukee were by mothers under age 20, according to an October report by the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services.

Vivian Chen, health operations director of the City of Milwaukee Health Department, said there needs to be a citywide effort to change people's mindsets about the economic toll of teen pregnancy to the city as well as to teens.

"The data are clear that there is an economic impact on the teen's future – their entire well being," Chen said. "This includes their education and health. Their entire future is compromised when you become a teen mom."

The public awareness feature of the United Way's campaign is one of nine recommendations made by the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Advisory Committee in 2003, said Nicole Angresano, the United Way of Greater Milwaukee's associate director of community impact.

The committee of local business, political and health officials was formed in response to a 2002 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that ranked Milwaukee as having the second-highest rate of teen births of the nation's 50 largest cities.

The three-year media campaign will continue until 2009. The ads have been effective in raising awareness of the issue of teen pregnancy, Angresano said in an e-mail.

"You can't hope to affect behavior change without first making people aware that, one, there is a problem, and two, they have the power to change the story," Angresano said.

According to a spokesperson at the United Way, Serve, a local non-profit advertising and marketing firm, developed the ad campaign. One of the most that drew the biggest response ads featured on bus shelters and billboards was that of a pregnant boy.

"People, businesses and the media seem to understand that while the ads – particularly the pregnant boy ad – is disturbing, what is more disturbing is the high teen birth rate and the negative impact it has on teens and our community," Angresano said.

The United Way has seen a 67 percent increase in giving to its Healthy Girls project, which funds programs concentrated on preventing teen pregnancy. Donations to the Healthy Girls project totaled in $645,000 last year, the United Way spokesperson said.

The Healthy Girls project also provides funding for programs targeting males, Angresano said.

"The role of boys and men is considered in all aspects of our campaign. We fund programs that work towards teen pregnancy and sexual violence prevention, and several of these programs work directly with boys," Angresano said.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee receives funding from Healthy Girls for programs, including Passport to Manhood, geared to males between ages 13 and 18, said Jacqueline Zeledon, the organization's spokeswoman. The program includes group discussions on setting goals and how to create healthy relationships, Zeledon said.

The Plain Talk Milwaukee Initiative, a community health-training program run by the city's health department, is also funded in part from Healthy Girls, said Denise Crumble, the program's health project coordinator. She said the goal of the program is to train more than 600 adults in sex education within three years.

Parents, teachers, mentors and young adults would become "askable adults" who teens could talk to about sex, Crumble said. The project's focus has been in the Midtown neighborhood, located just north of campus, she said.

Crumble said she encouraged Marquette students to become involved in the project.

"We accept teen pregnancy and other health issues as just being the norm," Crumble said. "We're not shocked anymore."

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