CALCASIEU PARISH, LA (KPLC) - The National Wyman Teen Outreach Program (TOP) has finally come to the state of Louisiana. And more importantly, it is now local - Calcasieu Parish. The Southwest Louisiana Aids Council is facilitating TOP.
The program is designed for youth 12-18 years of age. Wyman's TOP has been in operation for the last 30 years. It is currently being administered in more than 400 organizations in the United States, Virgin Islands and United Kingdom.
Currently a replica of the program will be in Lafayette, Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Alexandria.
Barbara Miller, who works for the Southwest Louisiana Aids Council, is the program's facilitator for Calcasieu Parish. She says for teens facing their own social issues and temptations, this program is just what they need.
Miller says "We are also affected by AIDS. We do have some teens (in Calcasieu Parish) who are HIV positive. And sexually transmitted diseases are also cause for concern."
According to the DHH (Department of Health and Human Services), at the end of 2010, there were 18,540 people currently living with HIV in the state of Louisiana. The DHH site also states there is an increasing trend in the number of new HIV diagnoses in young person ages 13-24. In 2006, 20% of new diagnoses were in the age group 13-24. In 2010, that number jumped to 25% for the same age group.
DHH continues: "Louisiana continues to have very high rates of STDs. In 2009, Louisiana ranked 1st in the nation in primary and secondary syphilis rates (16.8 per 100,000), 2nd in gonorrhea rates (204.0 per 100,000) and 3rd in chlamydia rates (626.4 per 100,000) according to the CDC's 2009 STD Surveillance Report."
The TOP initiative will last a total of nine months and will start in September 2011. Miller says teens will learn how to solve conflict; learn how to deal with pressures for sex and avoiding teen pregnancy; learn how to communicate assertively, speak up for themselves; and teach them how to think better.
There is statistical evidence that the program has been a success amongst teens who have gone through the program:
52% LOWER RISK OF SCHOOL SUSPENSION
60% LOWER RISK OF COURSE FAILURE
53% LOWER RISK OF PREGNANCY
60% LOWER RISK OF SCHOOL DROPOUTS
There is a community service learning component. Teens, within their groups, will pick a particular project to work on within their community. Within Calcasieu Parish, TOP should have at least six groups of 25 teens - meeting once a week for two hours at various sites.
Miller also wants teens to know there will be opportunities to receive awards and rewards. Teens will get a $50 gift card upon taking a survey at the beginning of the program and again at the end of 9 months. That same teen can still get a $50 gift card again one year later after taking another survey. In total, that teen could receive $150 in gift cards.