Church, Girl Power! join forces to help teens cope Program to discourage use of drugs, alcohol

December 04, 1997|By Jill Hudson | Jill Hudson,SUN STAFF

The national Girl Power! Campaign and Mount Pisgah AME Church in Columbia are joining forces to help girls make the stormy transition from childhood to adolescence.

Girl Power!, a public education program begun a year ago by Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala, is aimed at addressing important issues in girls' lives and helping to discourage their use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs.

Joyce L. Weddington, coordinator of Howard County's Office of Substance Abuse Impact Services, said the Girl Power! program will find a welcome audience in the county.

"We know that substance abuse is increasing among young girls," she said yesterday during a news conference announcing the local program. "Although we have no data that supports that drug abuse is on the rise here in Howard County, we should take this opportunity to be pro-active, so that it doesn't happen here."

Promotional materials such as posters, pens and daily diaries will be provided by the national campaign for distribution in all county public middle schools.

The Girl Power! campaign is designed for girls between ages 9 and 14 -- the age group that is four times more likely to be depressed and twice as likely to commit suicide than boys of the same age.

National research shows that girls who performed well in the classroom between the ages of 9 and 11 often perform less well in school at age 14 and may receive less incentive to participate in class discussions than boys, according to the campaign.

The Rev. Delores L. Sconiers, associate pastor at Mount Pisgah AME Church and the county leader of the new program, said a small network of volunteers from the church will begin a female mentoring program at Wilde Lake Middle School in January to combat such problems.

"We'll be looking at at-risk behavior in middle school girls and trying to examine some of the psycho-social changes that many of them are going through," Sconiers said. Mount Pisgah volunteers will approach local youth organizations, schools and retail stores and ask them to become involved in the program, she added.

"We'd like to tap into some existing programs in the county so that we're not trying to reinvent the wheel, but our first priority is to target those young girls who are more at risk than others," Sconiers said.

Increasingly, parents are having to confront their young daughters about the phenomenon of violence among girls. While far fewer girls than boys get involved in juvenile crime, social workers worry about girls' rising involvement in violent behavior.

Child advocates say behavioral stereotypes for girls are being swept aside and girls of all socioeconomic classes are trying more risky behavior, in line with what their male peers are doing.

Saving girls from such behavior might be a matter of getting to them early enough, said Pat Kelly, a pupil personnel worker for Howard's Board of Education. She organized an anti-violence program for girls at Wilde Lake High School after a teacher there died in May after breaking up a school fight.

"We need to start asking them at a younger age to look at their behavior and think of other ways they can handle things," Kelly said. "We really need to help them set goals and plans."

That programs like Girl Power! and Mount Pisgah's are needed in places like Howard should not come as a surprise, she said.

"There are some parts of this county that are very, very needy, and the resources for them are not there," Kelly said. "A lot of the poorer kids can't afford to belong to the Columbia Association, so they may hang out on the streets. We need to offer them alternatives."

Pub Date: 12/04/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.