Guiding youth to lead healthy and safe lives.

My Personal Motivation to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Tonja childhood
Tonja with her mother and sister

CEO reflects on her first year at SHA

In one quick year at Social Health Association of Indiana I have come to understand the profound impact our organization has on the lives of youth and families. As a child of teenage parents, I am reminded every day on a personal level just how important our work is.

I knew my life was different than other kids who had homes to grow up in, went on family road trips and participated in church and family activities on the weekends.

My younger sister and I attended Little People’s Prep in 1971, one of Indianapolis’ first preschools. It was a novel idea to go to preschool then and not stay home with your mother all day. I recall in first grade at IPS #77 overhearing a teacher tell another that I would probably have problems in life because I was from a “broken home.” Believe it or not, divorce was rare in 1973. Growing up while my parents were also growing up was not easy. The hardest part was seeing the emotional, physical and financial struggle they each endured.

Lives altered
My mom’s mother abandoned her out of shame of the pregnancy; my mom was forced to quit high school and forgo a scholarship she had earned for a trip to Mexico. My dad could not attend the college of his choice and had to choose a different, more lucrative career as a lawyer instead of history professor to support our family. My parents were in survival mode and had to work multiple jobs while caring for my sister and I. Fortunately, they had support from my paternal grandparents, which made a world of difference, and yet it never gave them their teen life experience back or the future as adults they had envisioned. And while we all survived and sometimes thrived as a family, none of us would recommend becoming a teenage parent.

A difficult road
It saddens me when I see teenage parents. I feel the years of struggle that they and their children will endure. The number one reason teen girls drop out of school is because of pregnancy, and a key contributor to the cycle of poverty is unplanned pregnancies. It’s a long, rough road to be a teenage parent, yet it is preventable.

Ironically, my parents’ high school, Arsenal Tech, was one of the first in Indianapolis to offer sexuality health education programs delivered by Social Health Association in the late 1960s. My mom half-jokingly says she wished they’d started the program a few years earlier, as I was born in 1967!

Of course I know my parents love me, and I love them. Preventing teen pregnancy does not imply teens won’t love their kids or cannot raise children. It’s about giving teens the best possible life both as teens and adults. It’s ensuring happy, healthy and safe youth today and for generations to come.

We are making a difference!
On my first anniversary as CEO, I have a deeper respect and appreciation for our superb staff, board of directors and 160 school partners who are devoted to educating Indiana youth about how to care for their growing bodies during puberty (and respect the changes in other’s bodies); how to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases; how to develop healthy relationships and avoid teen dating violence; and how to Step Up for Kindness!™ to prevent bullying and peer violence.

For 72 years SHA has empowered youth to make responsible choices and adopt healthy behaviors so they can reach their fullest potential. Life is different now than when I grew up. It’s more difficult and complicated for young people, which is why I look forward to continuing our work and having a positive impact on the 45,000 students we serve each year.

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Tonja L. Eagan, M.P.A., CFRE
CEO, Social Health Association of Indiana

Help us guide Indiana youth to lead healthy and safe lives.