"We made welcome packs for the students this year," said Diane
Stephenson, chair of the Healthy Families Task Force with Healthy
Communities Partnership. "In it we included information on STDs and
how to contact the health department and what things we could screen
"We wanted to do something to get them started off on the
right foot this year ... and we hope we can do that by giving them
the information upfront," Stephenson said.
Decreasing STD rates in Logan County is the newest objective of
the task force, which was formed to help serve the mission of the
Healthy Communities Partnership: "Improving the health and quality
of life of the people and communities we serve."
"Healthy Families started out focusing on decreasing teen
pregnancies but are now doing that for STDs as well," said Kristin
Lessen, director of HCP. "Logan County is considered to have a high
STD rate per capita."
To combat the high statistics, Stephenson and the other task
force volunteers work to develop programs that are accessible to
those who need them. What began as a focus group at Lincoln
Community High School evolved into a multi-tactic campaign to
decrease teen birth and STD rates.
"I was the school nurse at the high school for 12 years, and
while I was there, I took a special interest in our teen moms --
both their pregnancies and their returns," Stephenson said. "And I
kind of felt like we were missing something."
To fill that void, Stephenson started a teen parent club, in
which young mothers could talk together, share experiences and help
each other resolve child-related issues.
"We wanted to keep the kids involved in school and to try to get
them to go back to school after they would have their babies,"
Stephenson said. "We tried to improve their communications with
their instructors at high school when they were homebound so that
they would have better success on returning back to school and
hopefully completing and getting their high school diplomas."
Stephenson said that alongside decreasing teen birth rates,
another objective that formed was promoting services that would help
to ensure healthier babies. These included parenting classes;
educational sessions that taught about such topics as asthma and
various playgroups; and the WIC assistance for women, infants and
children, which provides federal grants to low-income families for
Soon, Healthy Families went beyond the walls of LCHS and into
local junior high schools, where they put on a program that
Stephenson says covered "a little bit of everything -- STDs, and
different things on birth control and pregnancy.
"It helped our instructors in the schools try to have some more
information and material to present, because we know a lot of kids
are getting their information at that level," she said.
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"We also try each year to promote good sex education on (Lincoln
College's) campus and try to get them in for screenings as early as
we can -- just trying to do all the things we can to the best of our
abilities within the realm of Logan County."
But since it's primarily a rural area, Stephenson says Logan
County's lack of resources can be limiting.
"It's a small town, and we don't have a lot of the services to
offer that other communities have," Stephenson said. "And that's
what always makes it tough for me. We have these kids come on campus
who are coming from the Chicago area and communities that have a lot
of walk-in clinics or free clinics, and we don't have any of that to
"We lost our Planned Parenthood, and that would have helped at
least the college-aged kids in their STD and birth control issues.
It has hurt us in some realms because we don't have those
Stephenson says one haven, though, is the convenience of another
HCP task force -- the HOPE Mobile, on which nurses provide primary
and preventive care to outlying communities.
"With the HOPE Mobile, I at least plan on recommending that more,
because it is a walk-in, and that gives (college kids) some
flexibility so that they don't have to miss class as much," she
"We just want to give them as much information as we can give
them to help promote healthy and responsible behavior. They need
that extra hand. They're still kids, and we need to give them as
much as we can to help them promote the environment for that new
child that's coming in, not only health-wise but education-wise."
[By LINDSEY BOERMA]
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