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Teaching Teens to Wait

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For Phillippia Faust, it was like manna from heaven --- a half-million federal dollars for her one-woman program teaching sexual abstinence to teens.

"Still I sit in awe and say, 'Ain't nobody like Jesus!' " Faust said of her grant from the Department of Health and Human Services. "It affords me the opportunity to, throughout every day, live out the passion of my soul."

Faust's program was among 28 projects nationwide that received large grants from HHS in July to promote sexual abstinence.

In Georgia, Rockdale Hospital was awarded $177,809 a year for three years for Faust's program. Decatur-based Metro Atlanta Youth for Christ received $363,936 a year for three years, and the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta received $436,000 in the same round of grants.

The grant has transformed Faust's mom-minus-pop operation. It started four years ago, with Faust making the rounds of Rockdale high schools on her own with a few posters.

Now Faust directs a group of 21 trained, paid abstinence educators operating out of Rockdale Hospital, where she works in childbirth education.

Metro Atlanta Youth for Christ ran a teen abstinence program in churches for years with one full-time employee, aided by volunteers, on a shoestring budget.

Now the group's director, Cindy Miller, leads a six-member staff in Hall, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties. The group will work with 600 at-risk teens over the next three years.

Faust is a familiar sight in Rockdale's high schools, carrying her message on a poster from classroom to classroom: "Sex Outside of Marriage is . . . Not needed. Not normal. Not expected."

With parental permission, she shows teens graphic slides of organs damaged by sexually transmitted diseases. Role-playing and frank discussions help build self-esteem and decision-making skills.

Faust has taken a version of her program into Rockdale's middle schools and started a Saturday program at a group foster home for girls. And she has bolstered her "renewed virginity" work with teenage parents-to-be in DeKalb and Newton counties.

Sarah Miller, 16, of Monticello was among several teens who attended last week's meeting at Dr. Lee Rippy's ob-gyn practice in Covington. Her 2-week-old son, Daa'ylan, and her mother, Brenda Miller, accompanied her. Sarah said having abstinence education earlier might have prevented her pregnancy.

Metro Atlanta Youth for Christ will run abstinence education groups in at least 10 different youth programs over the next three years. One staffer is a full-time social services coordinator. Teenage parents are being recruited to work as paid "peer educators."

The federal HHS has committed $18 million over three years to the abstinence effort. Officials of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who appeared at a ceremony to present an oversized grant check to Youth for Christ, said the agency was supporting abstinence as one component of sex education.

But critics say abstinence programs do not work, and may violate the separation of church and state. Many abstinence programs are religion-based efforts.

The Supreme Court plans to rule on a Washington state case that could overturn laws in several states, including Georgia, that forbid spending on religious instruction. Gov. Sonny Perdue has proposed rewriting the Georgia Constitution so religious organizations can more easily provide state-funded services.

Charles Eaddy, project coordinator of Youth for Christ's program, said their grant was not being used to promote religion. Abstinence programs are simply preaching the same just-say-no message given to kids about drugs, drinking and smoking, he said.

"We spend a lot of money on trying to get people to use condoms more effectively," Eaddy said. "Why wouldn't we spend money on a program that would make it more likely that kids would follow through on a commitment to remain abstinent?"

Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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