While the statistics are overwhelming but seem to be decreasing from years before, the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force is working to help lower the number of STDs, and pregnancies through awareness with their Girl Talk Project.

This program organizes in-home educational parties for and by teens ages 13-18 and focuses on STD awareness, domestic violence awareness, sexuality and orientations, and proper use of condoms, because awareness is one of the keys to keeping this epidemic from growing.

JOINING THE FIGHT—Tamika Gethers of Garfield, with daughter Jade Gethers, 13, and niece Stevie Jamison, 13 and of Stanton heights, reading literature on the PATF and their fight against STDs.

Tiffani Thompson, coordinator of the Girl Talk Project for the Pittsburgh Aids Task Force, said that with a lot of teenagers not being in steady relationships and having sex, this program teaches them how to be prepared.

“We gather 6-10 girls, 13-18 years old, and discuss STDs, domestic violence, HIV 101, have activities and question and answer sessions,” Thompson said. “We also offer testing at these parties at an anonymous location away from the party and meet them at another anonymous location to give them results.”

Over the last few years, the Black community has been the hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. According to AVERT’s website, an international HIV and AIDS charity, “Blacks/African Americans (in America) accounted for half of all new HIV diagnoses and just under half of new AIDS diagnoses in 2009.”

The Department of Health and Human Services Center for Disease Control and Prevention website, http://www.cdc.gov, reports that in 2009 there were more than 21,600 diagnoses of HIV and more than 16,700 of AIDS diagnoses among Blacks in the country, while Whites were more than 11,800 for HIV diagnoses and more than 9,400 for AIDS. Blacks ages 15-19 accounted for more than 2,000 of the HIV diagnoses and more than 450 of the AIDS diagnoses.

The Girl Talk program is African-American based and was a take-off of the PATF’s Girlfriends Project, which is essentially the same program but caters to ages over 18. It began in January and after several focus groups, held its initial party in April. Thompson said that since the initial party, the program has conducted nine parties with an average of seven to ten girls in attendance.

“These are like the old Tupperware parties,” Thompson said. She added that with the more people that attend, the more parties that are held and the more awareness is getting out in the community.

Thompson explained once an individual has decided to hold a party, the individual would call PATF, then together she and the host would put together a menu, which the PATF takes care of, then once the party is held, the host receives a $50 incentive and the guests receive a $10 incentive for attending. And if the guests choose to have an anonymous test, they receive a $20 incentive when they receive their results.

She added that the Girlfriend Project works the same way, but that participants do not receive an incentive when they attend.

While making young women aware is one of the best ways to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic within the Black community, another key component are parents getting involved. Earlier this month, the PATF’s Girl Talk Project held a Parent Education event, a workshop to facilitate conversations between teenagers and parents or caregivers.

“Last Saturday (June 18) was the first for the parent workshop. We wanted to start dialogues between parents and teens because if parents are involved it might impact their children’s decision,” Thompson said. She added that if parents are comfortable about talking about the issues and know what to say, then they can reach their kids in a more effective way.

According to Thompson, there were about 15 parents and two young people that attended. And while it is still not concrete, they are looking to run the parent event quarterly. She said some of the parents that came also had boys, so they can even take the information home and the boys can benefit from it too.

Damion Wilson, manager for the Center for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention at Adagio Health, held a presentation at the workshop and said, “Our mission (at CAPP) is to reduce pregnancy and STDS among adolescents and parental involvement is key. Parents need to be the primary source.”

Wilson agrees that the workshop is something that should be held again because he said there are a lot of things that cannot be covered in 15 minutes, 30 minutes or even an hour and parents need continual support.

When it comes to the Girl Talk Project Wilson believes that, “Anything where teens are involved and it lets them interact with their peers is great.”

While the fight against HIV/AIDS, STDs and even pregnancy starts at home, it also takes a community effort. Thompson said that they have partnered with other community groups and they are also trying to incorporate the program in churches.

“It is important for churches to get involved because a lot of African-American teens are in the church and (these issues) are something that should be approached holistically, both spiritually and physically.”

(For more information on the Girl Talk Project, call 412-345-7456 ext. 572 or Tiffani Thompson TThompson@PATF.org.)

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