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The Charlotte Observer, May 28, 2006

Council on Adolescents offers program for teens, parents

May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, and JoAnn Spees hopes a new program created by the Council on Adolescents of Catawba County will help young people avoid unwanted pregnancies and make responsible choices in all areas.

'Our focus for these young people is abstinence from unhealthy behaviors,' Spees said. As director of the Council on Adolescents, she and Special Programs Coordinator Sylvia Ratliff developed SilkWood/MenTalk to complement two nationally recognized prevention programs the council uses.

Students who take part come from afterschool programs at places like Thomas Chapel Church in Conover, the United Hmong Association, Centro Latino, the SOS program at the Hickory Recreation Department, Ridgeview Recreation Center, Salvation Army Boys and Girls Clubs, and Project Potential at Hickory High School.

The council's first program, WiseGuys/Images, encourages pregnancy prevention over 10 sessions, with WiseGuys for boys and Images tailored for girls.

'The program looks at relationships and risky behaviors and helps kids develop strategies to deal with them,' Spees said. 'It helps kids develop the life skills they need to make it to adulthood in a safe way.'

Another program, Making Proud Choices, deals with HIV/AIDS prevention, she said.

In the third program, SilkWood/MenTalk, 'we select young people who've been through WiseGuys/Images, but now they must come with their parents for 13 sessions over almost 26 hours,' she said.

'We work on communication skills within the family, look for ways to build on family strengths that already exist. We also look at problem-solving and decision-making, at discipline and self-discipline, plus we talk about sexuality, drug and alcohol prevention and more.'

The program is taught through activities, not lectures, Spees said. For example, in the session on self-discipline, groups of students and parents sit at tables with a collection of unrelated objects and have to create rules for a game that everyone in the group must agree on, along with penalties for noncompliance.

The names for the new program were chosen for what they suggest, Spees said. 'SilkWood for girls indicates strength, flexibility and creativity, as wood suggests, plus silk is feminine and fluid. The MenTalk is for guys, because guys don't talk a lot, and this is a reason for getting guys to talk to each other,' she said.

The council also offers two rewards for completing the SilkWood/MenTalk program -- a $200 savings bond from the Bank of Granite and a weekend at the beach.

The groups go to Wilmington, tour UNC Wilmington and take trips to the N.C. Aquarium, the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science, a water park, the beach and a cruise in the sound. 'It's the first time many of them have ever been to beach or on the water,' Spees said.

The trip is a sort of laboratory for everything students have learned in the 36 hours they've spent in the program, Spees said. 'The parents have to be with their children all the time -- they're fully responsible for them -- plus they all have to practice the communication skills they've learned and they have to budget their money.'

Funding for all three prevention programs comes from a $75,000 grant from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, Spees said.  The Council on Adolescents of Catawba County is a United Way Agency. For information on the programs or how to contribute, call Spees at (828) 322-4591.

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