Dr. John Peters, a Manatee County lung doctor, said he was stunned when he discovered his 18-year-old daughter, Cara Peters, was named “2016 Youth of the Year” by Healthy Teens Coalition of Manatee County.
“I’m shocked to hear she won this award because she didn’t tell my wife, Carol, and myself,” Peters said of his daughter, a Manatee High School senior who is admired in the Manatee County pregnancy-prevention community because she doesn’t hesitate to talk to her peers about safe sex, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. “But this is the kind of person she is. She cares more about giving to others than getting anything. We are just so proud of her.”
I have definitely heard kids asking how you can get pregnant. I think there should be a standard for talking about these issues. It could save lives. People need facts so they can make healthy decisions for themselves.
Cara Peters, winner of the 2016 Youth of the Year
Peters was one of four who received individual recognition Tuesday afternoon at Healthy Teens Coalition of Manatee County’s fourth annual Teen Pregnancy Prevention Awards and Graduation Reception at Renaissance on 9th.
The Healthy Teens Coalition of Manatee County’s mission is to help teens get needed information about pregnancy and related topics so they can make informed choices, said Mary Ann Legler, chairwoman of the board of directors of Healthy Teens Coalition of Manatee County.
Joan Tomeo and Mary Carol Costigan, social workers who counsel pregnant teens, were co-winners of the “2016 Adult of the Year” award. Family Resources received “2016 Nonprofit of the Year.”
In one of the event’s most emotional moments, Carlton Bennett, who has been out of school roughly five years and is a young parent, was presented his high school general educational development, one of seven presented Tuesday in the first graduating class of a new Teen Parent GED Program.
Peters sees gaps in teen sex education
The event also featured the graduation of teen health educators.
I love passing my torch to Cara Peters. She is comfortable and open and dedicated to learning as much as she can and presenting it to the community. Teen educators like Cara will have the greatest impact because teens will listen to their peers.
Joan Tomeo, co-winner of 2016 Adult of the Year
Peters, who is heading for Duke University to study the human brain in order to one day help people with autism, impressed Healthy Teen Coalition by the choices she has made, including working as a counselor with developmentally disabled children at Foundation for Dreams’ Dream Oaks Camp in East Manatee and by her quest to find a way to get sex education to her fellow teens at a time when teens are likely to get their information online through undependable sources, said Mary Ann Legler, chairwoman of the board of directors of Healthy Teens Coalition of Manatee County.
Peters said she realizes the gap in teen sex education just about every time she volunteers at Healthy Teens Coalition as a Teen Health Educator and hears students talking about sex and realizing there are tremendous gaps in their knowledge.
“I have definitely heard kids asking how you can get pregnant,” Peters said. “ I think there should be a standard for talking about these issues. It could save lives. People need facts so they can make healthy decisions for themselves.”
“Cara understands that knowledge is power,” said Tomeo who just retired from the School District of Manatee County where she worked for 13 years with teen parents.
Teens do best talking to teens
“I love passing my torch to Cara,” Tomeo added. “She is comfortable and open and dedicated to learning as much as she can and presenting it to the community. Teen educators like Cara will have the greatest impact because teens will listen to their peers. Many parents don’t realize that teens would like adults to answer questions without censorship.”
Peters will graduate at the top of her Hurricane Class of 2016 with a grade point average of 4.83, highest in the school.
Family Resources may not be well known by the general public but many teens know Safe Place 2B, which offers a safe place for up to 35 days for homeless and runaway children up to age 17 at 1001 Ninth Ave. W., Bradenton, said Lisa Davis, president and chief executive officer of award-winning nonprofit Family Resources.
Family Resources also has Safe Place 2B Too, a transitional living program for pregnant and parenting teens in Clearwater.
“Kids can stay there free of charge for up to 18 months, learn life skills, education and get stability so they can successfully transition to adulthood,” Davis added of Safe Place 2B Too.
Costigan works for the School District of Manatee County’s teenage parent program at the Harllee Full Service Center, which is part of the alternative program at Horizons Academy.
Costigan enrolls teen parents, counsels them, refers them to social service agencies and finds out where they are if they have missed a lot of school, which sometimes happens due to sick babies, she said.
The program has 53 teen parents, boys and girls, striving to get their high school diploma in this alternative setting.
Costigan said teen parents talk openly about the choices they made and what is joyful and difficult about being a parent.
“The school district has allowed us to really meet these students where they are in life and allowed us to be supportive of them continuing their education,” Costigan added.
The Teen Parent GED is a pilot program to help fill education gaps.
“Many of our teen parents fall behind when they get pregnant for multiple reasons,” Tomeo said. “They can have complications with their pregnancy, they may have just moved here, they may be behind in credits or don’t think they can complete their education by their 21st birthday.”
The Teen Parent GED program is a joint effort of the Early Learning Coalition, North River Care Pregnancy Center, Manatee Technical College and Healthy Teens Coalition. It accepts students up to age 24 right now who are required to attend class at North River Care Pregnancy Center in Palmetto, Tomeo said.
“Carlton Bennett was our first graduate,” Tomeo said. “He and the mother of his child were clients of North River Care and he was the first one that we thought had the potential to start the program off with success. He had a full time job but still made the time.”
For information on The Teen Parent GED program call 941-729-9004 and ask for Terry Giles, executive director of North River Care Pregnancy Center
Manatee County teen pregnancy at a glance
- The birth rate of Manatee County teens through age 17 dropped 24 percent from 2013 to 2014.
- The repeat birth rate among 15 to 17-year-olds in Manatee dropped by 26 percent from 2013 to 2014.
- The rate of repeat births to teen parents in Manatee remains 27 percent higher than the state average.
- Sixty-seven percent of all Manatee teen births are to mothers 18 and 19-years-old.
- Only 38 percent of Manatee County teens who have a child before age 18 will graduate from high school.
Florida Department of Health Vital Statistics
Parent GED Project graduation list
Graduates: Carlton Bennett, Thalia Bautista, Jessica Casper, Monica Hankins, Ana Maria Hernandez, Jessica Schneider and Mariah Thomas