One-third of teenage girls in the United States become pregnant before they are 20, with 81 percent of those pregnancies unintended. Locally, the Nevada County Clinic in Truckee sees an average of one to two teen pregnancies a month. Teen pregnancies cost Nevada County taxpayers $2,100,000 in 2007, when Nevada County had 62 teen births; forty of those were in Truckee. In 2008, Tahoe Forest Hospital reported 33 teen births.

Those are staggering statistics, but it could be worse. We could be without our public health service’s Teen Clinic. At the 2007/2008 Public Health State Conference, Nevada County, which served 458 teenagers in 2008, was ranked as one of the top five counties providing teen services in California.

And no wonder! The county clinic offers a wide variety of services for teens. The Wednesday afternoon Teen Walk-in Clinic provides teenagers free, confidential information, as well as counseling and health services from a bilingual staff. Teens feel comfortable coming to the clinic during this time reserved just for them; they have their own entrance and they don’t need to make an appointment. They often come in groups and hang out in a comfortable room full of informational pamphlets, with signs on the wall reminding them that what happens there, stays there. After answering confidential, in-depth questions, they are screened for tobacco, drug, and alcohol use, mental health issues, and high-risk behaviors. As for services rendered on the topic of sex, ‘Besides birth control education, teens are counseled on STD prevention, abstinence, and how to avoid sexual coercion,’ said Kathlee Martin, Truckee Clinic Supervisor, who was recently nominated for Nevada County’s most dedicated employee of the year. By law, all services are confidential, but the clinic strongly encourages families to develop relationships that foster healthy communication about these sensitive issues.

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Health Education Specialist Devin Bradley is hard at work helping parents communicate with their children. A recent community outreach presentation that was supposed to last a half an hour was so engaging that it had to be cut off after two hours of questions from apprehensive parents who had just discovered a great resource to help their kids navigate the turbulent teen years. Martin said the most important thing for parents to remember is, ‘Keep communicating even if you think they’re not listening!’

Bradley and Martin are excited about the Teen Advocacy program in Truckee. But, first, Bradley claimed, there are some myths that need debunking: ‘Don’t listen to your fourteen-year-old, expert, best friend!’ On the other hand, Bradley is teaching teens to teach teens about the facts of life. An average of eight teens volunteer each year for an eight-week training that empowers them to help their peers with answers to their questions about birth control, STDs, and tobacco prevention.

Once trained, the volunteers assist in the teen clinic and give health education presentations, which greatly empowers them as they discover their newfound abilities to make changes in the community. ‘Helping other teens my age and seeing people benefit from what I have said is a great feeling. I feel much more confident in myself since joining teen advocates,’ said 18-year-old Miss Silva. Three of the Teen Advocates are graduating this June, so if you are interested in becoming a teen advocate, call the clinic for more information.

‘You usually have to go to a big city for services like this,’ said Martin, admittedly tooting their horn.

The clinic encourages teens to come into the clinic to educate themselves before they decide to become sexually active.

Imagine how many teen pregnancies we’d have if we didn’t have this wonderfully pro-active service!

Martin recommends the bilingual website talkwithyourkids.org as a resource to learn about how to talk with your teens.

Wednesday Walk-in Teen Clinic is from 1 to 4 p.m. at 10075 Levon Street (Joseph Center), Truckee. Use the side entrance by the flagpoles. ncteen.org, 530-582-7814.

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