Dream Girls Conference: A Brilliant Victory!

                                             A Little Background  
Youth Empowerment Services Inc. (Y.E.S.) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that has been an integral part of Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties (aka the tri-county  area) in South Carolina. Since our inception in 1999, Y.E.S. has served over 4,000 youths through mentoring programs, college prep activities, workshops, and various community events, with the help of over 300 faithful volunteers.
On March 1, 2014, Youth Empowerment Services Inc. (Y.E.S.) in partnership with the Office on Women’s Health and over 40 local and state partners presented the First Annual Dream Girls Conference for middle and high school girls in North Charleston. Over 1,200 girls, parents, organizations, schools, faith-based organizations, and youth-serving agencies were in attendance. We were joined by representatives from 59 cities across South Carolina as well as those from other states.
Based on the 2014 conference evaluations and the overwhelming requests for the conference to be sponsored again, Youth Empowerment Services presented the Second Annual Dream Girls Conference on March 21, 2015 in North Charleston. Once again, the conference was a huge success with over even greater attendance across South Carolina and bordering states. Requests for the Third Annual Dream Girls Conference is again overwhelming. Additional information on both conferences and pictures can be viewed on the Y.E.S. website  www.yescouncil.org . (background written by www.yescouncil.org)

      Following are just a few of the hundreds of comments from the attendees:
-“It was good… The overall program was amazing and very inspiring.” -6th Grade Girl
-“I learned a lot today that will help later on in life. I also learned a lot so I could keep family, friends and myself encouraged.” -8th Grade Girl
-“… The speakers were very encouraging and inspiring… make me rethink a lot of things about my life.” -11th Grade Girl
-“I did not know what to expect, but (this conference) was amazing… everyone was so nice…the speakers were so motivating and the performers were amazing.” -12th Grade Girl
-“I was truly blessed. It was a wealth of information and I wish all the youth I know could attend. So good to see blacks and whites worshiping and sharing together.” -Adult
-“This is an awesome way to reach the minds and hearts of young girls who are silently struggling with issues which are not properly or appropriately addressed in… home, schools and … churches.” -Adult

Why Does This Matter to You?
An enormous number of people participated in the 2014 conference, and it was only the first installment! The second conference attracted even more people. Why were so many people moved to give of their time and resources to help us with this cause? Because the girls and families in our communities are in desperate need. More than 48% of high school boys and girls in South Carolina have had sex. Our state beats 38 of the 50 states in teen pregnancy with almost 5,000 teens giving birth in our state each year.  Many counties in our state have teen pregnancy rates that soar far above national averages. Also, teen birth rates are costing tax payers millions of dollars.  According to the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancies 2012 South Carolina, teen births cost the state of South Carolina 197 million dollars per year!

Sadly, many of these young girls are not able to shoulder this responsibility and terminate their pregnancies. Almost 1/5 of teen pregnancies in 2013 ended in abortion. Teen mothers who carry to term have a 15% higher chance of infant mortality than with older mothers do. Teen mothers who deliver healthy children and are able to care for them often repeat the pattern. In 2013, 25% of teens giving birth in South Carolina were already teen parents.
Girls who don’t get pregnant still suffer due to a climate of sexual misinformation and behaviors guided more by peers than by parents and teachers.  More and more students are reporting having sex before the age of 13 and with four or more partners. However, only about half of middle school students reported being taught about AIDS and HIV infection, a number which decreased from 2009-2011.
Research also reveals that there is significant emotional pain that occurs with becoming sexually active outside of marriage that includes broken hearts, broken lives, poverty and even death. For many families this is a generational cycle that they cannot seem to break. Y.E.S focuses on the factors that cause girls specifically to participate in risky sexual behaviors.  Interventions are different for girls than for boys because girls tend to solve their problems creatively through bonding and conversations. Also, most at-risk girls are dealing with gender-specific issues such as pregnancies, poor self-esteem, stereotyping and sexual and mental abuse.

What Can Be Done To Solve the Problem?
Y.E.S’s sixteen years of experience supporting your community’s youth have shown that mentoring programs that include lessons and activities relevant to today’s youth help empower them to make healthy and responsible decisions. Also, Y.E.S. helps to empower school leaders, parents, church and youth leaders to have informed conversations with their children to help guide them to a safer, more responsible sexual future.

                                            What Is Being Done?
Y.E.S has already helped to make a difference! The teen pregnancy rate in Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester county, where Y.E.S wields most of its influence, have fallen. Both Charleston and Dorchester counties have rates below the national average.
Y.E.S. offers the “HOW” to avoid at-risk behaviors. We do this through various programs and activities such as “Worth Beyond Measure” program that is designed to empower and guide the girls to believe in themselves and to discover their true self-worth. The girls meet with peer leaders and adult mentors to engage in relevant and meaningful discussions, role-play, team-building activities and bonding activities that boost their self-esteem and self-efficacy. Many of the girls who have participated in Y.E.S. programs are currently leading productive lives and report that being a part of our mentoring program is a contributing factor to their success in life.

How Does Faith Make A Difference?
Youth Empowerment Services Programs and Activities are faith-based. Research has shown that teens and adults are virtually unanimous in wanting their faith-based institutions to do more to help them relate their faith to dating, relationship-building, sexual decision-making, and marriage.
In May of 2013, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy published an article entitled “Tips to Help Faith Leaders and Their Communities Address Teen Pregnancy.”  The article stated that, “teen pregnancy and birth rates in the United Stated have declined in the last two decades, although it remains true that our nation still has the highest rates in the industrialized  world by far—with more than 700,000 teen pregnancies every year. That is why it’s so important for faith communities to engage their young members—and to talk with them throughout their teen years.

The article goes on to state that faith leaders should get involved in preventing teen pregnancy because:

          Research and survey data show that religious faith and a strong moral sense play important roles in protecting young people from too-early sexual activity, teen pregnancy, and other risky behaviors .
          Among teens that haven’t had sex, the primary reason cited by both boys and girls for not having sex is their religion or morals.
          75% of teens and 73% of adults say that religious leaders and groups should be doing more to help prevent teen pregnancy.


                                       What YOU Can Do!
Y.E.S and other national and state organizations have made great progress over the years. However, with 13 of our daughters giving birth and having to carry the enormous responsibility of caring for a child every day we need so much more. We rejoice because of the number of people who benefitted from our Dream Girl Conferences and programs,  but recognize that the attendance of many was a cry for support, information, and help. So many teenagers run the risk of contracting painful sexual diseases, the stress and anxiety of caring for a child alone, and bringing a baby into this world with the same limited opportunities and lack of support that caused them to become pregnant. Please partner with Y.E.S today to help our daughters and their children have a brighter tomorrow by becoming a volunteer! Call the Y.E.S. office at 843-767-9969 or email us at  yescouncil@yescouncil.org . We hope to hear from you soon!!