The rates of teen births in cities such as Springfield, Holyoke and Chicopee are above the state and national average. In 2009, Holyoke and Springfield also had rates of Chlamydia & Gonorhea that were above the state average. The statistics from 2009, are not a new phenomenon. For several decades communities in Hampden County have struggled to improve adolescent sexual health outcomes. The implication of high rates of teen births impact not only the youth but their children, families and entire communities. The complications from some STI can lead to long term morbidity and in some cases can also present as life threatening emergencies. But the impact is not limited to the health of individuals. In many cases, teen births can limit the potential of our youth to succeed in school and in life and if teens are not succeeding because they are becoming parents too soon, then our communities will not thrive.
In early 2000, state budget cuts decimated the state Teen Pregnancy Prevention line item in the state budget. This act wiped out 15 of 17 coalitions that existed across the state of Massachusetts. Springfield and Holyoke still dealing with teen birth rates above the state and national average were left with very little resources to address a very complex community “problem”. Instead of waiting and watching youth struggle with their sexual health, In 2006, several community members concerned about the future health of our youth and the prosperity of our communities, decide to take action and re mobilize our human capital to rebuild a sustainable coalition. In January of 2006, the Hampden County Network on Teen Pregnancy Prevention and Youth Empowerment was born.
Over the years the Network has evolved and it is now known as the YEAH! Network (Youth Empowerment Adolescent Network). The YEAH! Network consist of diverse community stakeholders who work together to create a proactive, comprehensive response to adverse adolescent sexual health and adolescent sexuality. The initial group of community champions who served on the Steering Committee and the board developed the network vision and values. YEAH! Network now has a small but mighty backbone infrastructure to support the work of the community network.
Learn more about the YEAH! Network at www.yeahnetwork.org