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Day in the Park: Teen event promotes abstinence, smart choices

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Teens and parents gathered at Starr Park recently for "A Day in the Park," an event aimed at preventing teen pregnancy hosted by the Clayton County Board of Health's Adolescent Health Center. The event brought together teen performers and non-profit organizations, which provided teens with information about abstinence, safe sex and avoiding risky behavior.

Brenda Tillman, youth development coordinator for the Board of Health, said this is the fifth year the Adolescent Health Center has hosted the event. She said Friday's event was part of a national campaign to get children involved in clubs, sports, college and career preparation, and other activities.

"We really are trying to get the teens to see that if they can postpone any sexual activities until later in life or until marriage, they won't have to face all the consequences of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) or the emotional trauma that comes with being a teen mother," Tillman said. "We really want them to think about what alternative things they can do instead of engaging in risky behavior. Most of the time, if you engage young people in healthy activities involving their church and community ... 85 percent of those students will postpone or delay being in a sexual relationship."

During the event, teens performed music and skits, and participated in a fashion show. While entertainment took place on Starr Park's center stage, non-profit groups such as Awesome, Inc., Youth Connection, Inc., Enough Entertainment, and the Ladies of Favor Mentoring Program, distributed information about abstinence, making healthy life choices, and avoiding STDs.

Gabrielle Starr, founder of the Ladies of Favor Mentoring Program, described the event as a "creative intervention," and said it was a more effective way to reach teens than lecturing them in a classroom.

"You can't really point at somebody and tell them what they should do," Starr said. "You have to show them other things they can do. This is a good environment for them to come out.

"They need different outlets," Starr added. "It's one thing to talk to people, but when they can express themselves through art, music, and other ways, it helps them on a whole different level."

Vanessa Okoliu, 17, recently graduated from Riverdale High School and plans to attend Georgia State University in the fall. She said the event shows teens that they can wait to have sex and still be interesting people.

"There are normal teenage pressures ... the pressure to drink, to smoke and to have sex," Okoliu said. "When you get pregnant early, it kind of interferes with your goals. I try to surround myself with friends who have the same goals as me. I don't feel like I have to worry."