In Honor of National Rural Health Day
Union Hospital – Client Spotlight
“It’s a Girl Thing: Making Proud Choices”
Through a Community Health Needs Assessment conducted in 2012, a steering committee found that teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, were a concern among rural community members of Union Parish, Louisiana. Union General Hospital (UGH), a Critical Access Hospital (CAH), took the lead in starting a program that makes prevention education a priority at the hospital and in the parish’s schools.
It’s a Girl Thing: Making Proud Choices kicked off in the fall of 2013. According to their website, its purpose is to help 6th through 12th grade girls “acquire the knowledge and skills for taking charge of and making informed decisions about their sexual health, exploring values, practicing responses in different situations, and thinking about their futures.” Program leaders provide participants with skills to acquire positive attitudes and beliefs about self-worth by tackling everyday issues the girl’s face.
This program has made it possible for UGH to build stronger relationships within the community, faith-based communities, and the Union Parish School District. It’s a Girl Thing is funded by Union General Hospital through the Rural Hospital Performance Improvement (RHPI) Project. They coordinate with the Union Parish School District to offer meetings at local schools under the21st Century Community Learning Center grant.
- It’s a Girl Thing meetings are held monthly at the hospital, weekly at Farmerville Jr. High School, and twice a month at Farmerville High School. Discussion topics include:
- Developing Your Sense of Worth
- Rights, Respect and Responsibilities
- The Consequences of Teen Pregnancy
- Health information is regularly taught in order to guide the girls in setting personal health goals.
- UGH offers mental health and suicide risk assessments to It’s a Girl Thing participants as well as referrals to appropriate services as needed.
- When available, UGH offers a summer job spot to one of the program’s outstanding participants.
- UGH offers one $1,000 scholarship annually to one of the program’s high school seniors who has met certain criteria and shown personal responsibility in making proud choices.
Since the beginning of the program, parents have reported seeing a difference in their daughters who participated in the program and the girls have succeeded in making proud choices. Below are specific results:
- Over 200 girls have enrolled in the program
- Union Parish teen pregnancy rates have dropped by 18%, exceeding the program’s initial goal of 5%
- School attendance rates from program participants have increased and pregnancy rates have decreased the longer girls remain in the program:
- Out of 1-year participants: 24 graduated high school and 3 became pregnant
- Out of 2-year participants: 38 graduated high school and 2 became pregnant
- Out of 3-year participants: 43 graduated high school and 2 became pregnant
Because of the success of this program, UGH recently added another component that helps prevent drug, alcohol, and tobacco use in youth. UGH’s anti-bullying program Together We can be Bully Free is also featured in the RHIhub Rural Health Models and Innovations.
Awards received by It’s a Girl Thing: Making Proud Choices:
- Named a 2016 “Program of Excellence” by the Jackson Healthcare Foundation’s Hospital Charitable Services Awards, of 10 awards given out from of over 200 nominees.
- Named a 2015 “Program of Promise” by the Jackson Healthcare Foundation’s Hospital Charitable Services Awards, one of 4 awards given out from over 200 nominee.
- Received the 2014 Outstanding Rural Health Program of the Year award from the Louisiana Rural Health Association.
The program was featured in the National Rural Health Resource Center’s Small Rural Hospital Transition Project Newsletter in 2014 and 2016.
Local ministers were requesting It’s a Girl Thing: Making Proud Choices to work with boys in the community. In response, UGH provided funding to bring in an evidence-based program to train 10 male leaders from the community to start a similar program for boys called Making Proud Choices.
The following key principles for replication come from the experience of the It’s a Girl Thing program:
- Because of the sensitivity of topics discussed in programs like It’s a Girl Thing, leaders should pay attention to gender-specific issues and offer education and advice in a compassionate manner.
- What works in one community might not work in another. Looks for way to cater a reputable program to your community’s cultural and religious beliefs.
- Form your leadership from people who represent various cultures in your community. Choose leaders who are already active in the community and have gained the trust of other groups and organizations.
- Be willing to take a door-to-door approach, making phone calls and grass-roots efforts to promote your program. Create your own marketing plan and promotion strategy. Utilize marketing mediums where young girls are present, including social media, internet, schools, and events.
- Recruit volunteers from the community and hospital who care about young girls and want to see them succeed.
- Passion is the key to making a program like this take off. Let your excitement come through in your program organization and recruitment.
UGH has included the following items in the It’s a Girl Thing: Making Proud Choices Personal Information Application:
- Parent permission slip
- “All About Me” sheet for completion by the participant
- An agreement that explains the personal commitment a participant is making by joining the program
- Program rules
Claudia Wade, Program Director
It’s a Girl Thing: Making Proud Choices