A central Toledo nonprofit organization is launching a program Monday aimed at preventing out-of-wedlock pregnancies among at-risk youths.
The James C. Williams Center for Advancement, 3540 Secor Rd., is planning to pair 125 youth from foster care or the juvenile justice system with volunteer mentors who can provide guidance and help find needed services.
The program will be known as Project CHANGE, or Change Happens As New Generations Excel, Program Director Susan Jester said.
"Oftentimes we are finding that the kids just don't have anywhere to go [for advice]," Ms. Jester said.
"We're trying to get them to have self-esteem, to believe in themselves."
The center received $220,000 through a Faith-Based and Community Initiatives grant from the state of Ohio, Ms. Jester said.
Program organizers will grapple with a persistent problem in Lucas County, which has led the state's urban areas in teenage pregnancy rates every year except four since 1989. In 2006 - the most recent year for which data are available - an estimated 1,441 girls and young women between 10 and 19 were pregnant. The total was the state's second highest, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Young people will be referred to Project CHANGE through Lucas County Children Services and the juvenile justice system, Ms. Jester said.
The program will help connect participants with available social services, such as tutoring, health care, drug treatment, or family planning services. It will be administered by a social worker employed by the Williams Center.
Program organizers hope to raise young people's self-worth and educate them about healthy decisions.
"We've got to let them know that we're here for them as a community," Ms. Jester said, "and if they make mistakes, that's OK."
Volunteer mentors will be asked to undergo an interview process, background check, and a four-hour training course. They must commit at least one hour per week to the program.
Pastor James C. Williams III, the center's executive director, said his organization believes in the changing power of mentorship.
"Connecting a young person with an individual that is really, really interested in them can change their lives," he said. "There are many kids out there who having a mentor would help them just make it from month to month."
Participants will be invited to planned activities and trips, but center staff has delayed planning events until it can receive input from the group.
"We find that if kids are busy doing things they should be doing, they quite often don't have time to get into other things that could mess up their lives," Rev. Williams said.
To volunteer to become a mentor, call 419-531-2727.
Contact Angie Schmitt at: