When 16-year-old Zamarys Rivera gave birth to her daughter Sophia, her entire life changed.

“Being a teen mom is very hard and very stressful,” said Rivera, now 19. “Waking up in the middle of the night and going to school in the morning is very hard.”

Co-County Wellness Services unveiled a new initiative to prevent teen pregnancy called Berks Teens Matter at a press conference Wednesday at the Santander Arena.

Rivera and fellow Reading High School student and teen mother Cristal Santiago, 19, shared their stories.
The event was held on the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

Berks Teens Matter aims to reduce teen pregnancy by 40 percent by 2022 through fact-based programing, education and services, said Co-County Wellness Services Executive Director Carolyn Bazik.

The initiative is using programs that have helped lower teen pregnancy rates around the country such as social media campaigns, encouraging implanted contraceptives and increased sex education.

Co-County Wellness Services has teamed up with 30 other local groups for the effort, including the Berks County Intermediate Unit, the Daniel Torres Hispanic Center, the Reading School District and the Wyomissing Foundation.

Bazik said the partners will assist in raising teen-pregnancy awareness, educating teens and the parents of teens.

Berks Teens Matter will work to ensure that local health providers will have youth-friendly centers to provide teens with information and access to contraception.

Berks Teens Matter project manager Jen May said teen pregnancies in the state are declining, but there is still work to be done.

“Teen birthrates have declined and that should be applauded,” May said. “But there are areas, pockets of Pennsylvania, where the rates are still too high, and one of those parts is Berks County.”

Nineteen in every 1,000 teen girls in Pennsylvania gave birth in 2014, May said.

That is lower than the national average of 24.

Berks is nearly double the statewide rate at 36 per 1,000.Reading (67.8) is about 3.5 times higher than the state average.

For Berks and Reading females ages 18 and 19, the rates are 43.5 and 89.3, respectively, according to May.
Teen pregnancy leads to social and medical risks for the children of teen parents, May said.

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