Local nonprofit organization First Things First promotes pregnancy prevention, ask educates teens and initiates a two-way dialogue.
By Joanna Ernst
“You need only do three things to avoid poverty in this country: Finish high school, marry before having a child, and marry after the age of 20. Only eight percent of families who do this are poor; 79 percent of those who fail to do this are poor,” said William Galston, former advisor to President Bill Clinton.
This quote appears on the website firstthingsrichmond.org. First Things First is a Richmond-based nonprofit organization focused on strengthening families through education and interaction with the community. As such a positive resource for the Greater Richmond area, First Things First strives to reduce the number of divorces filed in the Richmond metropolitan area, as well as reducing the number of out-of-wedlock pregnancies.
As a youth and singles program specialist for this nonprofit organization, Tammie Mobley, an AmeriCorps member, has ample experience making a difference, especially discussing hot-topic issues with youths. Meeting critical needs in the community, Tammie teaches young students how to make smart decisions in real-life situations. She teaches a “Relationship Smarts” curriculum at community centers, public schools, homeless shelters, and detention centers.
“With First Things First, my role is to talk about healthy relationships and how to avoid teen pregnancy,” explained Tammie. “I go to different schools in Richmond and encourage students to finish high school and get married first. When young people become pregnant early, they increase their chances of living in poverty .”
“Relationship Smarts” teaches youths about the consequences of unhealthy relationships and how to make better, more mature decisions about romance and physical relationships. In this core curriculum, Tammie tutors students on the correct sequence of successful life events. In this order: Complete education, secure work, get married and then have babies.
“I have been at Albert Hill Middle School for the past two months,” said Tammie. “The Relationship Smarts curriculum emphasizes communication skills in relationships with parents, teachers and friends. We talk about being a positive person with good character and morals. For example, make sure you graduate from high school and wait to have sex.”
The program also addresses peer pressure, conflict management, and other social skills that transform surviving into thriving. Appropriately, this includes broaching the subject of domestic violence protection.
Tammie described the relationship-attachment model, different scenarios that encourage students to explain what couples do wrong and can do better. By using real-world and modern day examples, educators such as Tammie are capable of connecting with adolescents and teens in the classroom. “These issues are relevant to the teenagers of today,” added Tammie.
On the subject of true-life stories bringing the point home, the program even utilizes celebrity paradigms to help students broaden their perspectives.
“I talk about domestic violence,” Tammie explained. “We’ll look at examples, and I’ll ask: Who do you think is wrong in this situation? As one specific instance, Tammie touches on highly publicized, controversial couple Chris Brown and Rihanna. This on-again, off-again celebrity relationship has sparked massive media debate about society’s tolerance level for violence. Now such a socially relevant story serves a functional purpose by getting students to think—and talk—about these issues in a secure space.
“At first, young ladies think that Rihanna is wrong because Chris Brown is in the spotlight and he’s just so cute,” Tammie articulated about students’ initial point of view. “Then this starts a discussion, and they change their minds and say that it is not okay—is never okay—for a man to hit in any circumstance. We have to respect ourselves for a man to respect us.”
Tammie also reinforces the definition of domestic violence, since abuse includes emotional, physical, and mental violence. “Violence does not only come in the form of hitting,” said Tammie, “It could be controlling you through the way you look, the clothes you wear, and the friends you hang out with, to talking down to you. There are many aspects to abuse.”
Together with the topic of preventing teen pregnancy, advocates like Tammie are pivotal role models to middle school and high school students seeking guidance to grasp complex societal problems. In the Richmond region, this is a great service benefitting all students. Additionally, First Things First has made a sizeable impact in the black community.
“I’m an African-American, and I work with many African-American students,” Tammie said. “I definitely believe this topic is relatable to them.”
In her own personal pursuits, Tammie is the founder of Mentor, Encourage, Life and Love, Inc., a community-based organization that provides life skills, educational workshops, and mentoring to teen parents. Tammie has received several awards for her commitment and dedication to the community, especially at-risk youth. She has also been featured as one of the Comcast Newsmakers on CNN Headline News.
“I got involved with teen parenting issues because I am a former teen parent myself,” said Tammie. “My first child was born when I was 18. I faced a lot of challenges and made some poor choices. As I got older I decided to start an organization for teen parents to help and guide them, and also to benefit the lives of their children.”
This mentor leveraged her own experience to advise parents on how to avoid teen pregnancy. “I would tell parents to be very open with their teens. I have found that teens often feel they cannot speak to their parents because they are so judgmental. They are not telling them even little things, such as liking a boy or a girl.”
She continued, “Open the lines of communication. Be there without judgment. Teens have asked if they are too young to have sex and whether unprotected sex is okay. They feel they can ask a stranger about this but not their parents. I strongly encourage parents to establish a dialogue with their children to avoid teen pregnancy. Talk to them.”
Simultaneously, Richmond City Health District strategically works to reduce teen pregnancies. They provide community-based Resource Centers, teen specific clinical services, mentoring for pregnant and parenting teens and school-based teen pregnancy prevention program implementation.
In collaboration with Richmond Public Schools and Communities In Schools the HYPP (Helping Youth to Prevent Teen Pregnancy) program provided 599 sessions, served 3,330 teens (grades five through ten) resulting in 10,799 encounters last school year. The HYPP program utilizes best practices in addressing a broad scope of topics relevant to the experiences of Richmond youth. Many youth serving agencies, including First Things First, are partners in their Healthy Living for Youth Health Fair events that are held in the high schools.
Gale Grant, Adolescent Health Coordinator of the Richmond City Health District stated, “Given the decrease in the number of teen pregnancies, approximately 300 since 2008, it is important to continue to encourage youth to make healthy choices. We are doing so through our billboard campaign for teens and parents.” She encourages all youth serving agencies to include risk avoidance and risk reduction strategies into their programs.
Together with the Richmond City Health District, First Things First has made a significant contribution to families in Richmond through national research-based, best-practice education programs. This nonprofit has made great strides to extend its reach in Richmond, and the result is greater awareness across schools.
“We encourage participation in the National Day Quiz on May 1, which signals the start of National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month,” Grant added. “Hundreds of thousands of teens across the nation visit the website www.StayTeen.org to participate in this interactive quiz. “ After May 1, the quiz will be available online for an additional two weeks to encourage a high response rate.