Project Alpha Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Retreat at Kolomoki Mounds State Park creates a safe environment where young men can learn about sexuality, manhood and relationships. Project Alpha is hosted by the Gamma Omicron Lambda Chapeter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.
ALBANY, Ga. -- The Gamma Omicron Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. is sponsoring its 29th Project Alpha Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Retreat through today at the Kolomoki Mounds State Park in Blakely.
Project Alpha began in Chicago and now has expanded to include more than 500 chapters across the country, mentoring middle school-aged boys to help them understand their role in responsible sexual behavior.
"Many anti-teenage-pregnancy programs are about girls. Project Alpha strives to reach the boys involved and teach them about the social, economic and personal consequences that come with fathering a child," said Mark Tillman, general president of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.
"We emphasize abstinence first and foremost, but also address contraception and safe sex. Ultimately, we want to provide a safe environment for young men to make positive choices about sexuality, which will result in their making more informed decisions."
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Georgia ranked 13th in the nation among states with the highest teen birth rates. Locally, the 14-county Southwest Georgia Health District reported 770 teen births in 2011, with Dougherty County accounting for 248 of them.
The Project Alpha retreat is open to all middle school boys but draws mostly from Dougherty County.
"Our fraternity chapter is located in Dougherty County and is mostly African-American men. So most of our outreach programs are geared toward young African-American males" said Dr. William Berry III, an Albany dentist who also is serving as the chapter's steering committee chairman. "It's thought that the best people to work with young black males are older black men. There are a lot of young African-American males who need help, and we think we can provide it. We share a natural bond with them, and we've had a lot of success with that."
The retreat includes 40 students and 20 counselors, facilitators and other members of the community. In addition to seminars about male responsibility in teenage pregnancy avoidance, drug and alcohol avoidance, and information about AIDS, there are self-esteem-building exercises and workshops, including applied technology, robotics and engineering projects.
"We do all sorts of things to keep it interesting. You can learn a lot while having a good time," said Berry.
The students are also required to write an essay at the end of the program as a way of refocusing their thoughts on what they have learned over the two-day retreat.
"We want them to think about what they have been exposed to. The essay allows them a way to do that," Berry said.
Fathers are also encouraged to attend the retreat with their sons, which can be a strong bonding experience.
Gamma Omicron Lambda Chapter President Prince Reid, III, said, "We expect this to be our most informative retreat. We have many excellent speakers who have volunteered their time and expertise to educate these young men and help them make informed, responsible decisions regarding their sexual behavior."