The federal grant from the department’s Office of Adolescent Health will be used to test the impact of two teaching programs about teen risky sexual behavior, with the intent to reduce teen pregnancy, violence and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.

Details of the program called CHAMPS, for Creating Healthy Adolescents through Meaningful Prevention Services, were announced Jan. 5 at a news conference at Americana Community Center, one of the partner organizations.

This is a project that really will make a difference, President James Ramsey said at the announcement. This is a big day for us, a big day for the community.

The grant will serve more than 1,260 young people aged 14-19 who are involved in community-based organizations participating with UofL in this effort. Ten partner groups will participate initially – six serving urban youth, three serving immigrant and refugee youth and one serving former foster children.

Anita Barbee, the social work professor leading the research team, called those teens among the most vulnerable to pregnancy, youth violence and disease.

The young people will sign up to be in a relationship communication course, and researchers will follow up with them for several years to see which of two courses works better to cut down on harmful behavior. The courses are designed to promote healthy relationships, self-confidence and positive communication skills. Course leaders will be trained this spring, and teenagers should begin participating this summer.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer commended the program’s potential multiplier effect, referring to its impact on the young people and their families and to educational opportunities that may open up to the teenagers. He also spoke of its potential to become a national model in the field. 

I believe inside of everybody there is a joy to learn …. This may be the first time these teens learn they can be anything they want to be, he said.

Barbee said that recent figures show that 2 percent of teen mothers graduate from college by the time they reach age 30. She also said that Kentucky ranks eighth in the country in numbers of teen pregnancies.

We’re not just preventing a problem, she said, adding that through the courses the young people should learn skills that will help them negotiate their way through relationships and make healthier choices throughout their lives.

Besides Americana, the community partners so far are Gate of Hope, Jewish Family and Career Services, House of Ruth, Steward’s Staff, St. George Community Center, Canaan Community Development Corp., Neighborhood House, Presbyterian Community Center and the Department of Community-based Services and its contract agencies.

Besides several UofL researchers, the team includes faculty from Spalding University and Western Kentucky University.

The grant builds on recent work by and with the UofL Office of Community Engagement that focused on helping grassroots organizations better serve young people in downtown, western and southcentral Louisville.

The federal grant is the largest received by the Kent School of Social Work, according to Dean Terry Singer.