Mary Jo Podgurski, RNC, EdD, LCCE, FACCE has been selected to receive the 2014 Carol Mendez Cassell Award for Excellence in Sexuality Education by the Healthy Teen Network. Dr. Podgurski will be in Austin, Texas on Wednesday, October 22nd to accept the award at this year’s Healthy Teen Network conference: Synergy: Achieving More Together.
The Healthy Teen Network builds capacity among professionals and organizations through education, advocacy, and networking so that they can assist all adolescents and young adults, including teen parents, to have access to the services and education that allow them to make responsible choices about childbearing and family formation, and are supported and empowered to lead healthy sexual, reproductive, and family lives.
Dr. Podgurski could not be more deserving of this award. Her impact on the lives of the young people lucky enough to have been exposed to or participated in one of Dr. Podgurski’s programs is profound. This woman is has a heart of gold. At the top of Dr. Podgurski’s CV is the following statement, which so clearly speaks to what drives and shapes her work and her heart:
Perhaps the most important biographical fact needed to know about me deals with joy. I am blessed to spend my days interacting with young people and I treasure every moment; I believe deeply in their wisdom. My primary mantra is simple: Each person is a person of worth. Actually that tenet translates well to my primary value – that all must be respected, regardless of age, size, race, ethnicity, sexuality, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, socio-economic status, education, religion, or position in society. My papa was my spiritual guide and he taught me that we are “all in this together.”
Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the Director of The Washington Health System Teen Outreach and President and Founder of the Academy for Adolescent Health, Inc. Her undergraduate education is in nursing and education, her master’s work was in counseling, and her doctorate is in education. She began volunteering with pregnant teens in the 70s and has created numerous youth development and education programs using reality-based, interactive educational techniques that are evidence-based and empower youth. Teen Outreach programs have reached over 18,000 students annually through in-school sexuality education in all 14 Washington County school districts. Since the Outreach began she and her team have taught over 231,000 young people in-school comprehensive sexuality education in four counties and 38 schools in Western PA. The Outreach has mentored over 7,000 young parents and trained over 10,000 peer educators. She directs a monthly Adolescent Advisory Board of 75 teens, maintains an active peer educator group (since 1995), and produces original teen educational dramas through the Real Talk Performers. The Outreach’s Ambassador for Respect Program was created in 2006 and models respect throughout the county; the 2013-2014 focus was Respect for Older Adults and the 2014-2015 theme is Smash the Stereotypes.
During 2010, Dr. Podgurski introduced her Real Talk for Real Teens™ trainings on sexuality education for school staff; these trainings provide activities, lesson plans, and PowerPoint presentations for 5th and 6th graders, middle school and secondary school students. Her educational/mentoring programs for pregnant and parenting teens (PPT) reach over 150 young parents annually in three counties. The PRIDE (Parenting Responsibly with Dignity and Empowerment) PPT Program and a program for expectant teen fathers entitled REAL Dads: Strong Fathers, Strong Families Program involve intensive, weekly mentoring contact with professional staff and young parents. The PPT Program averages an 85 – 94% high school graduation rate; over the last decade students in the program have experienced a 3% or less repeat pregnancy rate. The ECHO (Educate Children for Healthy Outcomes) early intervention program she created in 1999 provides intensive educational mentoring on a weekly basis for youth in grades 7 – 12. Founded on the evidenced-based antecedents for early childbearing (history of abuse, internal and external poverty, foster placement, and generational teen pregnancy) ECHO served 581 at-risk young women between 1999-2009. Only three of those young people experienced a pregnancy and all three were 17 or 18. ECHO clients are typically seen for 4 – 5 years. ECHO is currently being evaluated with help from Susan Philliber Associates.
I have had the privilege of meeting Mary Jo several times over the years at various childbirth functions and conferences. The magic that this wonderful woman possesses is clear from the minute you meet her. If you are lucky to spend some time with her, her, you cannot help but see her special powers! When you talk to Mary Jo, she makes you feel like you are the most important person in the world. You are heard, listened to and valued.
Mary Jo dreams big and makes things happen! The depth and breadth of what she has accomplished is so expansive. In addition to her extensive program development history, she is an accomplished author, with works that include Inside Out: Your Body is Amazing Inside and Out and Belongs Only to You, a body-positive, child-centered, interactive, child abuse prevention program, is a result of her experience with survivors. Her publications include Games Educators Play One and Two, and What’s Up as YOU Grow Up? In 2014 she authored a cutting edge children’s book on the challenging topic of gender/gender identity. Nonnie Talks about Gender is unique, interactive, and pertinent to today’s culture. Her latest books are Real Talk for Real Teen Parents: A Real Life Workbook for Young Parents, and Real Talk for Real Teens: #communicate, an interactive collection of scenarios to inspire adult/teen communication. Mary Jo Podgurski is also a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and a Fellow in the Academy of Certified Childbirth Educators.
Mary Jo Podgurski, please accept my personal congratulations and those of the entire Lamaze International organization, as you accept the 2014 Carol Mendez Cassell Award for Excellence in Sexual Education. We could not be more proud of you and we honor the work you are doing. It is making a difference in the lives of many. Thank you for all you do.