03/07/04 — The fight against teen pregnancy

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The fight against teen pregnancy

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 7, 2004 2:02 AM

Michelle Hardy Griffin said she grew up in the "hood" in Kinston. She was the youngest of eight children, with a mother who worked 16 hours a day and a father who was in prison for murder.

At age 11, she was taken to the One-on-One program, where her mother asked the to "fix her." She was a straight-A student and showed no visible signs of a problem but said she lived in a war zone.

She was matched with a mentor but nearly two years later, the woman was murdered by "the mob," she said. Another mentor was found and others lent support through her teen years.

Today she is executive director of the same program that was supposed to fix her. She works to ensure other children do not fall between the cracks.

"It's a war out there for kids," she said. "The external forces are so much greater than they were then."

She said many children today live in violence, with serious issues that many will never know about.

"Some of them have such deep-rooted issues, and you can't serve them without dealing with the issues," she said.

Ms. Griffin spoke at a meeting of WATCH's Teen Pregnancy Task Force on Thursday. She spoke of some of the things being done in Kinston to focus on teen pregnancy prevention.

She said the curriculum there was geared to middle school students but has been pushed back to include fifth-graders.

The biggest emphasis, she said, has been on self-image and self-esteem.

"In everything you do, whatever you're teaching, just make sure that you make that child understand that you're important and you're the reason why we're here," she said.

She suggested that the task force take advantage of other agencies and use all available resources.

"You have to go outside the box and find out what resources you have so you can use them," she said.

Among the ideas that have worked in Lenoir County are workshops for youth that also sometimes include parents, an after-school program, rap sessions, field trips, family night, a poster contest.

"One of the biggest things that we do is our mentoring program," she said. "We also have a back-to-school pool party. Parents come in with the school supply list, and we fill it."

Service learning is another outlet that has worked, she said.

"Youth involved in services to their community are less likely to become a teen parent." They "do better in school, and have better self-esteem," Ms. Griffin said.

Shirley Sims serves on the Wayne County school board and is on the board for the WISH school-based health centers. She applauded Ms. Griffin's approach and agreed that there must be a connection to children before any program can be successful.

"You do need to at least know where these kids are coming from," Ms. Sims said. "We're talking about sensitivity. Until we do a little bit more of that, we're not going to be able to embrace what you're talking about."

Ms. Griffin said that in order to reach youth, one has to be able to understand their situation. It might result in finding out that the family has no money, cannot afford air conditioning, or cannot provide a ride home from an event.

"The real thing is to take away as many limitations or excuses as possible," she said. "Unless you can really, really relate, you can't really serve.

"I know that if I can serve first, I can save somebody, but you have to have a service mind."