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ROCK SPRINGS - The joy of bringing a child into the world is one of the most rewarding experiences a parent can imagine.

But for a young, unwed mother-to-be, the experience can also be daunting and challenging, to say the least.

In Sweetwater County, the Wyoming Health Initiative helps women face this challenging time. Now in its 19th year, the program offers an array of services, including provides free pregnancy testing, education, counseling and birth control for females ages 14-19.

"Our goal is to improve the health and lifestyles of all teenagers in Sweetwater County," said Kolbi Williams, executive director. "We strive to be an advocate for the teenagers."

The WHI is also involved in a tobacco-cessation program, as well as being a big part of the local Big Brother-Big Sister Program in Sweetwater County. Nonetheless, the program for the teenage mothers is what draws much of the attention, and praise, of the WHI.

Williams said Sweetwater County has the third-highest rate of teen pregnancy per capita in the United States. She largely attributes this statistic to the transient population of the local area.

"A lot of the workers in the county come in for the oil and mining work, are here a few months and then move on," Williams said. "Often, what they leave behind is something someone else needs to step in and do something about."

There are about 100 girls and young women enrolled in the WHI. While some teen pregnancies are not involved with the program, any teen who visits an OB-GYN in the county and desires to take part in a prenatal class, is taken in by the WHI.

"We never try to persuade the girl to do one thing over another," Williams said. "We counsel them on the options of keeping the child, putting the child up for adoption or terminating the pregnancy … but we stress all the options that are out there. We hold their hands through this tangled web."

The WHI provides information and education on vitamins and other concerns that deal with a baby, such as making sure the expectant mothers attend all doctor appointments and wellness classes, while also providing a support group for the young mother.

The program also stresses the need for education for the women, and, Williams said, of all of the students present in the program who were pregnant when the current school term started, all are still enrolled in the WHI program.

Another area the WHI stresses is financial responsibility. As a result, an added part of the program has been the establishment of the Cub House program, a way the young mothers can acquire necessary items for the babies.

Through the Cub House, which started Aug. 22, young mothers can earn points that they can redeem at the baby store. Points can be accumulated based on staying in school, making satisfactory grades, attending all doctor visits and getting registered with the Women and Infant Children program and the Department of Family Services.

There are about 100 mothers involved in the Cub House, which is available to low-income mothers of all ages, according to Williams, a registered nurse.

Dad's Toolbox, which started Nov. 12, is designed to teach young fathers the basics of child care and to give them the instruction necessary to remain involved and to become a positive influence in the life of their children.

"Some of these young fathers lack a father figure in their own lives," Williams said. "There are exceptions, of course, but by and large many of these kids lack that someone in their life that is needed at such a young age."

Williams pointed to the fact that the most recent group of 36 men to go through her program, all but one of the fathers attended the Dad's Toolbox mentoring class, which gets its support from the March of Dimes.

The program involves a group of mentors to support the process. The mentors involved in Dad's Toolbox are described as successful businessmen in Sweetwater County who just want to give back to the community, and organizers said many of them were teenage fathers themselves at some point.

Copyright © 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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