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Advocates Impacting Change in Manatee County

Advocates Impacting Change in Manatee County

| Laura Bell Adams |

When Mary Ann Legler courageously spear-headed the Healthy Teens Coalition, a decade ago, Manatee County had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country.

By 2014, under Mary Ann’s insightful guidance, the Coalition began empowering teen advocates to raise awareness about sexual and reproductive health through informative presentations to their peers. Mary Ann based her teen advocacy approach on empirical evidence, which supports the success of teen advocates throughout the world. Under her leadership, Manatee County has seen a 55% decrease in teen birth rates among 15-18-year-olds in the past eight years.

Emma Bittar, Mary Ann Legler, and Perla Borja-Morales.According to the Centers for Disease Control reports, “One-quarter of teen parents have a second child before they turn 20, and a child born to a teen mother is nine times more likely to live in poverty.” The World Health Organization reports, “Adolescent pregnancy remains a significant contributor to maternal and child mortality, and intergenerational cycles of ill-health and poverty.” The statistical narrative paints a compelling story about the social and economic cost of teen pregnancy on educational attainment and lifetime earnings. The effectiveness of the Healthy Teens Coalition underscores the importance of a multifaceted intervention that includes peer to peer advocacy.

The author, Natasha Reisner, with 3 of the teen advocates from Healthy Teens Coalition.To understand what Healthy Teens Coalition has meant to a teen advocate, I had the enormous pleasure of meeting and speaking with the eloquent Emma Bittar. Emma is a highly motivated young woman, with ambitious aspirations and long-term goals, which include attending law school, ultimately practicing in the human rights field. When we spoke, she was excited to be finishing up her college applications. She joined Healthy Teens Coalition as a Highschool Freshman and had no idea the impactful role the non-profit would play in her life. She had hopes of making a difference in the community, and after completing an application, she went through eight intensive weeks of training. “We learn about a relevant topic, then proceed to practice public speaking skills in preparation for teen advocacy. Being involved has boosted my confidence, and I’ve learned the importance of making informed choices about my physical and mental health in ways I never imagined. I have become confident in engaging parents, educators, community leaders, school officials, and policymakers because of the skills I have gained through Health Teens Coalition,” says Emma.



Anastasia Ramirez, another teen advocate, is an intelligent, compassionate, and empathetic 18-year-old high school senior. When we spoke, she, too, was excited to be finalizing her college applications. She eloquently described the Coalition’s contribution to preventing teen pregnancy through their educational and advocacy work. She is pleased that the Healthy Teens Coalition also addresses other relevant issues, including vaping, sexually transmitted diseases, and adolescent mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. “Being involved has been great for me, and I always talk about how comfortable I’ve become as a public speaker because of Healthy teens. My family tells me they’ve seen my confidence grow through my involvement as a teen advocate,” says Anastasia.

What makes the Healthy Teens Coalition successful – teen advocates embracing their powerful voices by bringing the conversation to the forefront and effecting social change.  Click here  to learn more about the Healthy Teens Coalition or to donatie!

“Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that generation. Let your greatness blossom.” ~ Nelson Mandela

Photos from Healthy Teens FB and Natasha Reisner


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