Organizers of the Teen IDEA Challenge are challenging teens to think before they have sex.
And they plan to give away movie tickets and an iPad to sweeten the deal.
Teens Have Choices — the nonprofit formerly known as Washington County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition — will host its third annual Teen IDEA (Individual Decision Empowerment and Awareness) Challenge from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, at Leitersburg Cinemas, northeast of Hagerstown. Attendees can see how well they do on a Choose Your Path obstacle course, a string of seven stations that simulate the consequences of drinking and smoking, unhealthy living and having sex. Finishers will be entered to win an iPad, said executive director Shalom Black Lane.
The IDEA Challenge was conceived by a committee of local teens and is part of a broader, ongoing campaign to reduce the number of teen pregnancies in Washington County.
According to data from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Washington County had the state's fifth highest teen birth rate in 2009, when the birth rate among 15- to 19-year olds was 40.8 per 1,000 females in that age range.
Lane said the figures are signs of progress in Washington County: State data show the local teen birth rate has declined for two years in a row. The rate was 58 teen births in 2007, and 46.9 in 2008.
"One of the places we think we've moved the needle is in awareness," Lane said. "We're getting more into the schools. We're doing stuff in the churches. We're doing stuff with after-school and community programs. It's reached that level of consciousness. Teens are thinking before they act."
Since 2005, the pregnancy prevention group has partnered with educators, community groups, health care providers and the religious community to reduce teen pregnancy.
"Our curriculum is pro-abstinence, but it also acknowledges that there are teens that will not take that route," said Diane Eves, chair of the group's Faith-Based Initiatives committee — or the FBI.
"(The curriculum) addresses contraception and the importance of contraceptives," Eves said. "It talks about pregnancy options. It strongly promotes adoption as an option but by no means says that it is an easy choice. There are no easy choices for pregnancy. You choose to raise the child, adopt the child or, god forbid, abort the child. They're all very difficult decisions and they all have lifelong consequences."
Robin Roberson, executive director of the Community Free Clinic in Hagerstown, has been involved with the local coalition's efforts to reduce the number of teen pregnancies.
Roberson said more teens are using its free sexual health clinic, which is offered Thursday evenings. The clinic is open to any Washington County teen, male or female, between the ages of 13 and 19.
An average of 40 teens go to the clinic each month, which she said was 50 percent more than the number of teens who went to the clinic a year and a half ago. Some come to the clinic to learn about birth control options, Roberson said. Others come just to talk about what to do if they become sexually active.
"We diagnose pregnancies, as well," Roberson said. The clinic also offers STD testing.
Though the number and rate of teen pregnancies has declined, Lane said the work of Teens Have Choices is far from over, and that there will need to be many more events such as the Teen IDEA Challenge in the future in order to continue the downward trend.
"We get a new batch of teenagers every year so our work is never done," Lane said. "It's a matter of figuring out the things that are working."
If you go ...
WHAT: Teen IDEA (Individual Decision Empowerment and Awareness) Challenge
WHEN: Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22.
WHERE: Leitersburg Cinemas, 20145 Leitersburg Pike, northeast of Hagerstown.
COST: Free. First 300 entrants will receive free movie tickets. Those who participate in the Choose Your Path obstacle course will be entered into a drawing for a 32 gigabyte iPad.
MORE: For more information, call 301-671-3000.
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