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.
How we do what we do
The YEAH! Network hedgehog concept
The YEAH! Network does not exist to duplicate or replace the work of community organizations that have served youth in multiple capacities over the years. The YEAH Network does not deliver services or programs to youth, instead utilizes its strength to create the environment for CBO and city agencies addressing adolescent sexual health to do their best work. For that reason, the YEAH! Network has adapted a hedgehog concept that describes what we do best to bring value to communities in Hampden County. The hedgehog concept is from the book Good to Great by Jim Collins.
How do we mobilize the community to action
The YEAH! Network uses advocacy, research, community education and collaboration to influence practice and policy in adolescent sexual health.
The mission of the YEAH! Network to mobilize the community and its leaders to address adolescent sexual health and important life decisions is deeply rooted in a vision that everyone is part of the solution to improve sexual health outcomes for youth. We also understand that there is no silver bullet, no single program, policy or medical intervention that will solve the disproportionate high rates of teen births or STI that affect some communities in Hampden County. We want to move away from creating individual solutions to creating collective solutions that require collective accountability so that all community members contribute to improving sexual health outcomes for youth. For this reason, the YEAH! Network is utilizing the Collective Impact approach to bring long term sustainability.
The collective power of community partnerships, have begun to change the landscape of adolescent sexual health across Springfield and Holyoke. These partnerships have created major wins that have led to new school policies for evidence based sex education and access to sexual health services. These policies not only seek to improve adolescent sexual health outcomes, but also contribute to our collective goal to improve education outcomes and increase graduation rates. Working together, community partners have also successfully competed for millions of dollars of grants to improve adolescent sexual health. With these policy wins and recent infusion of state and federal funding sources, there’s no better time to establish a new strategy that will not only help us sustain our current efforts, but ultimately do it better.