The Gila County Teen Risk and Resiliency Coalition wants to help local teens make responsible choices concerning sex, and it is bringing a life-sized maze to town this fall to point them in the right direction.
Teens negotiate the maze by chance, not choice, to learn about the potential ramifications of early sexual involvement.
"We want teens to learn that sex should wait until they are ready to deal with the possible consequences that come with it pregnancy, adoption, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV," Maternal Child Health Program Director for Gila County Carolyn Haro said. "We want them to know that the decisions they make now can affect the rest of their lives."
Fifty-two of the 691 pregnant women in Gila County last year were teens 17 years old and younger. That number is down slightly from last year's 55 recorded teen pregnancies, but health department officials want to see that figure continue to dwindle.
The coalition addresses the teen pregnancy issue in its traveling maze, "LIFE Are You Ready?" for youths ages 12 and up.
"This program discusses birth control methods," Haro said. "We focus on how many times each method fails rather than showing how reliable it is."
The program provides teens with the imaginary experience of making decisions about sex and the possible consequences. It is not meant to serve in place of sex education. It is a supplement.
"Open to everyone, this program is as close to reality as we can get," Haro said. "Whatever the child pulls out of the hat is the path they take, beginning the game with money and a booklet; that's it. Winning the game requires graduating from Maze High School and getting a job."
In the end, the youngsters are encouraged to make wise decisions, not take chances or get lost in the maze of life and peer pressure.
"LIFE Are You Ready?" is meant to serve as a tool, stimulating parent/child discussion on these issues, exploring where child and adult values are held on the subject.
"We understand that this can be a tough issue for parents and kids to discuss," Haro said. "We are hoping to break that communication barrier."
A meeting will be held at 6 p.m., Wednesday, July 19 in the Payson Town Hall Council Chambers to organize the teen maze presentation for Payson adolescents, which will be held Sept. 16 at the Tonto Recreation Center.
"A grant funds this project," Haro said. "I have the money and the interest; now I just need the volunteers. It requires about 100 people."