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Giddyap, Aiken!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

By: Crystal Booker

As we continue our work within the early stages of Expanding the Reach of Effective Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs in High Need South Carolina Communities, a five-year grant funded by the Office of Adolescent Health, van tours have been a vital way for us to discover new opportunities to impact the communities we work in.  During our latest trip, the SC Campaign took a drive through Aiken to identify key resources within the area that can potentially aid in advancing teen pregnancy prevention efforts.  Lead by Aiken Youth Empowerment, we spent the day exploring the town which proved to be a diverse city with an eclectic flavor.

A horse and carriage may have been a more appropriate form of transportation, as the town boasts in its love for equestrian with plenty of horses and roadways preserved for their sensitive hooves.  It was easy to get lost in the beauty of Aiken as we rode around identifying local clinics, schools, and community-based programs. 

For Kandace Cave, Aiken Youth Empowerment’s Director of Community Programming, van tours like these are important for anyone who is looking to work in unfamiliar terrain.  “It’s hard to work in a community if you don’t understand the community,” said Cave. “Their needs, their challenges.  Having an opportunity to do a van tour gives the SC Campaign, as well as our agency, an opportunity to actually get on the ground, see what’s going on in the communities, and see the areas of need and possible challenges that we might not be able to identify in an office setting.” 

Formerly under the name Aiken County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Council, Aiken Youth Empowerment has been a staple in the area as it works alongside Helping Hands.  “Whenever people in Aiken County saw the name ‘teen pregnancy,’ nobody wanted to work with us.  So, we changed our name to Aiken Youth Empowerment doing the exact same work using most of the same programs,” said Cave. “Now we can get into the school district and get into churches, but the idea of teen pregnancy is still something that people just don’t want to talk about in this area.”

As we travelled through the city, it became increasing clear one of the main challenges we may potentially face in upcoming years is changing the lack of dialogue surrounding conversations about teen pregnancy.  “There are certain parts of the community who would love for somebody to come in and talk about teen pregnancy, but some people just don’t want to deal with it,” said Cave. “We have a large population of retirees here, so often things that are related to youth and young people they don’t see as an issue.“

As we continue our work within the grant, we are mutually excited about what it means for our partnership with Aiken Youth Empowerment. “It gives Aiken Youth Empowerment an opportunity to seek out the help of other community members and then we get the support of the SC Campaign in that area,” said Cave. “So, instead of just going into the schools and doing our programming, the SC Campaign is helping us expand our reach.”

Expanding the reach of every organization we work with is the goal of the SC Campaign.  As we continue to partner with Aiken Youth Empowerment and other organizations within the area, we are certain that the common goal of creating a brighter, healthier future for youth in South Carolina will be realized.  As we continue our work within the grant, we can’t wait to see all that Aiken has to offer.

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