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Barbara Huberman was a labor and delivery nurse on duty at a Charlotte-area hospital in the 1980s, when a pregnant 10-year-old girl was dropped off by her parents.
Left alone and told by her parents that she’d created the problem so she had to deal with it, the girl had no idea how she’d gotten pregnant or how her body worked.
After the girl gave birth, Huberman observed the girl sitting in her hospital bed, coloring in a coloring book — and realized something had to change.
Huberman went to United Way in Charlotte, and they helped her start a task force that spun off into its own non-profit organization. What began as an adolescent pregnancy prevention campaign in North Carolina, today is Shift NC (Sexual Health Initiatives For Teens).
When the adolescent pregnancy prevention campaign was founded, one out of 20 teenage girls in North Carolina was pregnant before her 20th birthday. Today, teen pregnancy rates have dropped by close to 80 percent, but the mission of Shift NC remains essential to educating adults in working with youth in North Carolina to teach them about their sexual health, said Elizabeth Finley, director of strategic communications for Shift NC.
“By increasing awareness, disseminating data, improving policy, supplying professional development, and providing leadership, we are empowering North Carolina’s professionals to support healthy development,” Finley said. “Our approach uses successful, evidence-based methods to make a positive change for teen pregnancy prevention, HIV and STIs, healthy development, sexuality, and relationships.”
As the program evolved over the years, its leaders came to realize that those responsible for addressing teen pregnancy and sexual health in their communities — social workers, those managing the foster care system and others — had so much on their plate, that it was a topic that was often overlooked. In addition to teen pregnancy, Finley said those people were also fielding questions about HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, healthy relationships, and being LGBT.
In an effort to keep up with the times, in 2015 the organization expanded its focus beyond teen pregnancy, and rebranded as Shift NC, with a mission encompassing all matters pertaining to sexual health.
“It’s allowed us to fully own the work we’re doing with communities,” Finley said.
For Carmelita Coleman, director of SaySo (Strong Able Youth Speaking Out), a statewide association of youth, age 14 to 24, who are or have been in the out-of-home care system in North Carolina, the partnership with Shift NC has been essential to educating not only the youth she works with, but allowing them to educate their peers about sexual health.
“The training that they offer is absolutely current, and really resonates with young people,” Coleman said. “To be able to have young people to go out and teach and train other young people who are in foster care has had a tremendous impact.”
Thanks to training through Shift NC, that group of 14- to 24-year-olds are now equipped to speak to their peers about sexual health, Coleman said. She feels these young people are better able to connect at the same level because they’re the same age, and they’ve spent time in the foster care system – and, thanks to Shift NC, Coleman said they’re also well-informed.
Shift NC works across the state with adults who work with young people — whether that’s educators, non-profits that serve youth, or organizations in communities such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, or local churches, Finley said.
“We build their skills to understand best practices in adolescent sexual health,” she said. “What kind of education is helpful, what medical services are helpful; how do adults increase connections to people with resources within the community.”
Shift NC also has specific initiatives around the state. In Durham, for example, All Together Now is an organization working to strengthen the way the health care system in Durham serves teens, Finley said.
Shift NC works with departments of social services in the state to help those who coordinate the foster care system better understand how the trauma those youth in foster care have experienced may relate to their sexual health, Finley said. In addition to training them to help youth with these issues, she said it’s also about building their skills in answering sensitive questions, and relating to those who may be LGBTQ.
Their numbers speak to their success
“One of the neat things about working with adults who work with youth is, your impact can be magnified,” Finley said.
By tracking their results — they look at the number of adults they’ve supported through either coaching or training and then looking at the number of youth those adults work with — Shift NC can see a far-reaching impact.
For example, they run a daylong training program educating adults on how to be an ally to LGBTQ youth. Last fiscal year, they trained roughly 520 adults through that program. Those adults then reached 287,000 youth through the schools they serve, Finley said. Shift NC also trained just over 200 health care employees last year and estimate they worked with 7,600 young people.
“We feel really good about that,” she said. “It’s about creating a better environment for these youth by working with the adults.”
Plans are to keep expanding their reach, and the work that they do — adapting with the times along the way, such as adding training and discussion about consent to their programs.
“Sexual health matters,” Finley said. “Investing in young people’s sexual health benefits them, our state, and our communities now and in the future.”
3710 University Drive, Suite 310
Durham, NC 27707
Contact: Elizabeth Finley, 919-226-1880 or firstname.lastname@example.org
How to help: Financial donations are the most beneficial.
$10 would buy a personal health kit for a teen or young adult in foster care. It includes personal care items, as well as a health empowerment guide designed just for them.
$20 would buy training materials for one teacher in an Awkward to Awesome boot camp, which helps health and physical education teachers feel comfortable teaching sex education and managing the tough questions.
$50 would send one school staff person to a How to Be an Ally to LGBTQ Youth workshop, which helps them create safe and affirming environments for LGBTQ youth and a more supportive environment for all students.