By Laura Camby McCaskill
BENNETTSVILLE—One program in rural South Carolina is broadening teens’ sense of self-purpose and helping to reduce teen pregnancy.
In 2009, lifelong United Methodist Marian David spearheaded a mission of creating Tea Time with Teens, a program in the Bennettsville-Cheraw area that not only helps establish a solid foundation for teens, but also teaches them about their self-worth.
“South Carolina is one of the highest in the nation for teen pregnancy,” said David. “The community is rural farmland. There’s nothing to do here—no skating rinks, bowling alleys, free dance classes, movies (or) recreational activities of any kind.”
To lower the pregnancy rate, Tea Time with Teens was created to celebrate these girls and provide fun opportunities. It provides a space for them to grow, explore and discover themselves.
“I grew up in a rural South Carolina United Methodist church,” David said, so she can relate to what these girls are feeling. “The difference was I had these wonderful ladies who would have tea with us on Sundays. They would talk to us about our dreams. They’d constantly remind us we could do anything. They didn’t talk down to us—they lifted us up.”
But apart from Tea Time, she said, “These girls don’t have anybody to talk to about girl things or anything.”
Meeting once a month for tea, the girls discuss topics ranging from self-worth, positive body image, cyberbullying, career goals and more. Groups are kept small with three adults to 10 teens. The average meeting time is two hours. Girls start at age 13 and commit to a group, which they attend until they graduate from high school.
Currently there are nine churches involved with Tea Time for Teens, and organizers hope that number will continue to grow.
“It provides something positive for the girls’ development,” advisor Shirley Jones said.
The curriculum is leadership-based with subjects such as “My Internal Self” and “We Are More than Just Skin and Bones, We Have a Soul.” Hot tea is served to encourage discussion and learning. The girls also have the opportunity to participate in a number of community service and social actives such as Relay for Life, the Martin Luther King Parade and Veteran’s Day festivities. They also take trips to tour colleges, museums and other locations around the area.
“We can’t just say, ‘Let’s stop the pregnancy.’ We have to put something in ahead of that,” David said.
Role-playing scenarios help the girls consider different perspectives, such as their parents’. For example: Your daughter is 16, and she wants to go out on a date with a guy you never met—and he is older. As a parent, what would your answer be?
Parents are shocked to learn their teens answer “No, definitely not.”
Since the start of Tea Time with Teens, David said, teen pregnancy and high school dropout rates have reduced. The program partners with the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, the Coalition of Family Enrichment and the Children’s Defense Fund. It is also listed as a model pregnancy prevention program by the University of North Dakota Rural Health Network Hub.
“I believe it is sending a positive message,” said the Rev. Judith Knox, pastor of Trinity UMC, Bennettsville. “Girls know that we care.”
In five years, David hopes the program will develop a stronger curriculum that can be used in broad spectrum. But most importantly, she hopes teens understand they are truly loved.
“Always know people care. You are not by yourself,” she said. “It’s worth the effort. We can turn these negative statics around if we work together.”
To learn more about this ministry: [email protected].
By Laura Camby McCaskill