|Marengo County Teen Leaders take the lead in delivering abstinence education programming to sixth-grade students.|
Making good choices is not always easy, and it is a skill young people need help to develop. One Alabama Extension youth effort is helping young people in 18 counties make smart choices about relationships. 4-H Teens Getting Involved for the Future is a community- and school-based, abstinence-only education program that has been reaching Alabama young people for 20 years. Bibb, Clarke, Covington, Fayette, Geneva, Green and Lowndes counties are the newest counties to begin offering 4-H TGIF.
Conducted through Extension’s youth outreach, Alabama 4-H, TGIF is under the leadership of Sheila Weber. Weber took over the leadership of the program just over a year ago. She projects the program will reach more than 6,000 people by the end of fiscal year 2016. Two more counties will be added to the program in 2017.
"My goal is to continue to grow the program and its funding so TGIF can reach more people throughout the state," Weber said. "We hope to build the skills they need to manage the ever-changing pressures they face in today’s world."
Weber added that young people are bombarded on a daily basis by various sources presenting unhealthy behaviors that distort reality. Whether it be messages from television, movies, music, social media, advertising or clothing, it is easy for young people to become desensitized to them.
The Alabama Department of Public Health funds TGIF through its Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program with monies received from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
So, how does 4-H TGIF work? The program has three teaching parts – Teen Leaders, youth and parents.
First, outstanding teens in their junior and/or senior year of high school apply for the opportunity to become a Teen Leader. The chosen leaders then complete training before putting their new skills and knowledge to work in a classroom. Teen Leaders then deliver abstinence education programs to sixth-grade participants.
The primary curriculum for TGIF is Managing Pressures Before Marriage. Teen Leaders deliver the curriculum and serve as peer mentors. The emphasis is to help young people develop skills to resist sexual involvement.
The Relationship Smarts program, delivered by a trained 4-H facilitator, is tailored for seventh and eighth graders and consists of five weekly lessons to help young people learn skills needed to make smart relationship choices for now, and in the future.
Bridging the Great Divide is a program for parents who are also led by a trained adult facilitator. This program runs six sessions and focuses on building healthy relationships with teen children. The program provides tools for parents of teens to establish effective communication about healthy relationships, including sensitive topics.
"Teen pregnancy is the No. 1 reason females drop out of school in Alabama. TGIF is helping decrease that number by helping teen girls and boys make healthy personal decisions that affect their lives today and tomorrow," Weber added.
Experts say the best time to reach young people with abstinence training is in the sixth grade or at age 11-12.
It takes two to four Teen Leaders to deliver the programs in each county. Weber calls these leaders the cream of the crop.
"They believe in the TGIF mission and take pride in knowing they are mentoring youngsters. The Teen Leaders also live what they teach serving as an example for the younger teens and giving them the courage to make and stick to their decisions," she said.
"My reason for becoming a Teen Leader is to help my young peers make good life decisions in their school, community and world. One bad decision could make a big difference in their lives," Karleafa Wise added.
Casey Turner became a Teen Leader because she wanted to make a difference in the lives of individuals.
"I understand the actions an individual takes can affect their future and their life goals. I want to influence young teens to make good choices," she said.
Keasha Jones echoes Wise and Turner’s sentiments.
"Being a Teen Leader gives me the opportunity to teach younger teens a better way, to let them know they have someone to look up to and show them a positive way."
Another positive aspect of TGIF is that the Teen Leaders do an annual service project for their communities. Past projects have included canned food drives, recycling projects, school supply drives, diaper drives and volunteering to help with community events. This year, all the counties are partnering with the Alabama Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers to do a statewide community service initiative. 4-H Foundation agents and TGIF agent assistants were given a list of supply needs by the executive directors of county children’s advocacy centers. 4-H and TGIF youth began the statewide community service project by implementing a supply drive to benefit CACs in every county. The supply drive will run for the entire school year.
"It is never too early for young people to learn the importance of giving back to their community and helping others in need," Weber said.
Donna Reynolds is the communication editor of news and public affairs with ACES in Auburn.
Maggie Lawrence is the news unit manager for Alabama Cooperative Extension System.