Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Holyoke approves plan to address teen births

from The Republican
Wednesday, April 29, 2009

HOLYOKE - After two years of meetings, a unified plan to address the city's high teenage birthrate was finalized this week by city officials and community groups.

"This is great," said City Councilor Diosdado Lopez on Monday. "It's long overdue. It's an issue the city has been struggling with for years."

He chairs the City Council's Redevelopment Committee, which voted on Monday in favor of recommending a one-page document outlining a strategy for addressing the teenage birthrate. The recommendations will be forwarded to the council, which will meet on May 5 and must ultimately vote on the recommendations.

The panel has been studying the issue for more than two years, Lopez said. The council first referred the issue to it in March 2007.

Monday's document recommends the creation of a task force that will meet monthly and include representatives from the state, the mayor's office, the council, the Health and School departments, and religious community "in order to collaborate their time, effort, and resources in working to reduce the city's high rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases."

According to the most recent statistics, Holyoke's teenage birthrate was 95.4 out of 1,000 births in 2007, making it the highest in the state.

Lesley J. Kayan, the senior community health educator at Planned Parenthood's Springfield office, praised the council for taking action.

"I just think it's wonderful the City Council cares about this issue," she said. "They're being proactive and caring about these children."

Sarah T. Dunton, director of youth development programs at Girls Inc., agreed. "I'm hopeful. We know the issues. Residents of Holyoke know the issues. To put energy at this level is really important."

City Councilor Elaine A. Pluta, who attended Monday's meeting, hoped that the committee's work results in the creation of a task force.

"These are just recommendations," she said. "Hopefully, they (residents) will take the ball and run with it."

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