Five years ago, as part of a new board for a new nonprofit, the discussion focused on setting a goal.
Notes written on pages from that first board retreat have words and phrases like “institutionalized,” “driven by strategy and data,” “best practices,” “internal capacity” and “proven results.”
Not exactly a riveting read. Even policy wonks needed coffee to power though the jargon.
The board’s current president, Aimee Boyer, lent me those notes as a memory refresher on how the Tulsa Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy decided its long-term goal on the reduction of teen births in the county. It was a number highly debated by the original board.
Last week, the nonprofit and its partners celebrated reaching that ambitious goal two years early.
That significant accomplishment proves the programs and partnerships launched just a few years ago work.
However, the achievement is tempered by Oklahoma remaining quite a bit higher than the national average. Oklahoma improved to No. 3 in the country, down from No. 2.
The good news is the state is moving in the right direction, finally — with Tulsa leading the charge.
Getting to this point started with a nearly day-long meeting shortly after the November 2013 launch of the nonprofit known as the Tulsa campaign. The board was composed of doctors, attorneys, financial analysts, nonprofit professionals and me.
Hours were spent hashing out language to set benchmarks that were “specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.”
These smaller targets were like scoring points within a game. But when it came to determining a win, we were stuck.
At issue was where to draw the seven-year goal line.
About half the board wanted a lofty goal that got closer to a 40% reduction in teen births. The others wanted something reachable, somewhere in the 10% to 15% range. Staff proposed a 25% decline.
Other state campaigns set goals ranging from 8% to 43%, with the median being 23%.
The question: Do we dream big and risk failing or take a measured (and nearly guaranteed) approach to build public confidence?
I was on the go-big-or-go-home team but knew staff would be tasked with what we decided.
At the time, Oklahoma had the second highest teen birth rate in the country (43.9 births per 1,000 teen girls) and highest among 18- to 19-year-old women.
The state’s teen birth rate had been declining but not at the speed of the rest of the country, which had already implemented initiatives around teen births and healthy relationships.
Oklahoma didn’t have a coordinated push for evidence-based health education programs, access to contraception, teen-friendly health clinics or public awareness campaign.
Within months of the campaign’s formation, it was working with Tulsa Public Schools and Youth Services of Tulsa to reach more than 1,300 students with sex education programs approved by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Union began its health and sex education curriculum.
That was a huge step. For decades, schools resisted anything with the word “sex,” even though surveys showed parents wanted these programs.
The only exception was a 1987 law requiring students learn about AIDS. Though, that law is narrowly focused and never updated.
Evidence-based programs, as certified by the CDC, aren’t just about sex.
Research shows effective curriculum address consent, healthy lifestyle choices, mutual respect, communication and goal setting. Biology is just a part of of these comprehensive programs.
TPS and Union were the first districts recognizing its students needed this information and discussion.
These changes made for an optimistic mood among the campaign’s board members.
Talk revolved around shifting the culture, reaching groups from faith institutions to sports leagues, creating youth-friendly medical offices and eventually expanding beyond Tulsa. All this to reduce teen pregnancy.
The campaign does not provide services. It serves as a hub for information, coordination among partner agencies and training of certified sex educators for teaching in schools or other youth groups.
Its success depends on the partners providing services. Those include Youth Services of Tulsa, Take Control Initiative, schools districts and Tulsa City-County Health Department.
The board set a 30% reduction in teen births as its goal, from 2013 to 2020. The Oklahoma Department of Health released data from the CDC on 2018 teen births last week.
Tulsa County reached a 35% drop to a rate of 24.2 per 1,000 births.
It’s a milestone that should be cheered, but just for a moment. So much is left to do.
Oklahoma still doesn’t have a mandated health course. The Legislature has failed to update the AIDS curriculum law.
Many school districts use non-proven, non-medically accurate abstinence-based courses. Parents need to ask about this as schools resume.
Sexual assault, particularly on college campuses, is a problem.
Moving forward, the campaign will announce a re-brand in the coming weeks. This means a new look, website, social media outreach and name.
The focus will expand to healthy relationships. This gets at problems around social media, sexting and consent.
Most of the original board has moved on to other commitments. Three of us finish our terms at the year’s end (Boyer, Tulsa City-County Health Department Executive Director Bruce Dart and me).
We do so having stuck with a once-fledgling nonprofit during tough times on a tough issue. We leave the campaign in the good hands of Executive Director Amber McConnell and her enthusiastic team.
This will be a never-ending, community effort. This kind of work is never complete because there will always be teenagers.
Among the board retreat papers was a question asking what we considered exciting or interesting about the nonprofit.
Originally, I was interested because it’s a social measure that could improve so many other things, like welfare costs, graduation rates, workforce development and the economy.
Now, I can add that it’s exciting to know Tulsa can dream big, set an aggressive goal and reach it. This issue is too important to backslide or forget.
Planning the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre history center