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Local Teens attend Youth Advocacy training in D.C.

youth-advocates
L to R: Markette Hambrick, Jessica Headrick,
David Ramos, Kaila White and Karina Garcia.

The Visions of Hope (VOH) Coalition recently announced that Whitfield and Murray County youths who were selectively chosen to participate inGeorgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (G-CAPP) Youth AdvocacyTraining sessions in Washington, D.C. have now returned and are ready to share theirexperiences and newly acquired skills with area youths and adults.



Karina Garcia of Northwest High School was the only student from Georgia to be one of
70 students from across the nation to attend the first Advocacy for Youth Urban Retreat
session in Washington D.C. back in September.

Since then, four other students from Murray and Whitfield counties were chosen to attend
a subsequent Advocacy for Youth Urban Retreat session in D.C. this month, including
Markette Hambrick and Jessica Headrick of Southeast High School, David Ramos from
Dalton High School, and Kaila White of Murray High School.

Headrick explained, "At these sessions, the students attended separate seminars, which
included political and community advocacy, media spokesperson training, and web-based
information dissemination training." Almost 130 students across the U.S. attended one of
the two sessions.

The students returned from the retreats as High School Organizers, which means they are
to secure comprehensive sex education in their school, mobilize other students in
activism on sexual health issues, assist with community awareness of the importance of
comprehensive sex education, and educate the media about comprehensive sex education
and HIV prevention.

Teen pregnancy rates in both Murray and Whitfield Counties are consistently high. As
Garcia described, it has become so commonplace to see a pregnant student at school, that“their friends will walk up to them and say, ‘Congratulations, we need to give you a baby
shower!’ like it’s okay.”
Actress Jane Fonda founded G-CAPP in the 1990s as a result of traveling around the state
and seeing a disproportionate number of pregnant teenagers. The G-CAPP program uses
community-based organizers to address the underlying problems that lead to adolescent
pregnancy, such as poverty, unemployment, violence and drugs.

One member of the GCAPPboard of directors is Rick Myers, a Dalton resident and co-owner of Myers Carpet. G-CAPP's mission is to eliminate adolescent pregnancy in Georgia, and the programpromotes statewide public policy initiatives that support healthy children, youth andfamilies.

However, in Georgia, it is complicated as to what sex education is permissibleto discuss with students. The current policy calls for abstinence education, only. Ramos stated, “Abstinence-only sex education does not provide information aboutcontraceptives, while it also leaves some groups out, altogether. But, comprehensive sexeducation reaches out to everyone with even more information, and it benefits everyone.”
For various reasons ranging from cultural mores to social taboos, many parents do notwant schools teaching sex education. However, parents often do not properly address thetopic with their children, themselves, leaving a void that is sometimes filled withmisinformation acquired through popular culture and peers.
“Some parents just don’t feel comfortable talking to teens about sex,” said White.The youth advocates promote age-appropriate sex education that would begin at a veryyoung age.

“It used to be that just high school kids were the ones you had to worry about having
unsafe sex and getting pregnant or STDs [Sexually Transmitted Diseases], said
Hambrick, “but now, middle school kids are at risk for these things. So really, kids
should be learning age-appropriate sex education as early as elementary school.”
Alvah Beasley is a local public health educator who works closely with the youthadvocates. He stated, “We applaud these teens for their courage, commitment, andenthusiasm in addressing such a diverse and taboo topic. They understand the importanceof youth advocacy, education, and involvement. They have become a part of Visions ofHope’s Youth Involvement Committee in hopes of bringing what they learned inWashington D.C. to their peers here in both Murray and Whitfield Counties.”
For more information, or to arrange a media interview with one or more of the youthadvocates, please contact Jennifer Moorer, VOH Community Education CommitteeChair, at (706) 280-9115 or email jamoorer@dhr.state.ga.us.
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