'When you walk your talk, that's integrity.'
Brittany is just 12, but this seventh grader from Wadsworth, Ohio, has already witnessed the heartbreak of out-of-wedlock pregnancies.
Brittany's mother gave birth to her before she was married. Her grandmother gave birth to Brittany's mother before she was married, and all of her aunts had children before marriage.
"I don't want that to happen to me," Brittany says firmly. "It was hard for all of them."
Brittany attends Teen Scene, an after-school abstinence program sponsored by The Salvation Army in Wadsworth, Ohio. The group meets each Wednesday at the city's recreation center. Michael Smith, a Christian and the recreation director for the city of Wadsworth, says Teen Scene is much needed.
"They can't wait to get in the door," he says of the kids. "The leader (Belinda Godin) knows the kids and what's going on with their lives and really connects with them."
During one session, 25 middle-school-age girls sit in a circle and discuss teen issues raised by Belinda. Many of the girls are upset that a classmate has died of carbon monoxide poisoning, but most of the discussion is about boys and dating.
In one object lesson about sexually transmitted diseases, Belinda has the girls take a small bite out of a Hershey's kiss, then rewrap the candy and put it in a sack. The girls then reach in and take candies from the sack that they think are theirs. They are all reluctant to take another bite. The point is obvious to all.
The discussion is frank and open. Belinda asks the girls what it would do to their Christian witness if they got pregnant.
"They'll think you don't 'walk your talk,' " one girl offers.
"When you walk your talk, that's integrity," Godin tells them.
Teen Scene is the brainchild of Captains Thomas and Deborah Grace, who pastor the Salvation Army church in Wadsworth, a small community of 18,000 people near Akron. Their daughter, Courtney, got pregnant six years ago at age 15.
The Graces, stationed in Cleveland at the time, were devastated, both as pastors and as parents.
"We had taught her the difference between right and wrong," Deborah says. "It wasn't a subject that we danced around or avoided, but she made a decision. You have to do your best to equip your children to make their own choices."
When they arrived two years ago in Wadsworth, the Graces acquired funding to start a program that would help other girls. They interviewed people to lead the group, but no one seemed right for the job until Belinda came through the door.
"It was a God thing," Deborah says. "She was a dedicated Christian and totally got what we were trying to do and just ran with it. It was definitely a divine appointment."
Belinda herself is the result of a teenage pregnancy, and her 12-year-old daughter, Rachel, is part of the class, which makes it extra special.
"I lived it," Belinda says. "I'd like to see these girls not go down that road. My mom wishes that [she] had chosen a different path. Every kid I come into contact [with] who has gone down that path wishes it [had been] different."
Belinda knows most of the girls' parents, and she says they've told her they love what she is doing and want more.
"I told the girls last year, I would love to get a wedding invitation from some of you and know that you were able to do this," Belinda says.
Another part of the program is to keep the girls busy with sports. Belinda says statistics indicate that girls who are involved in sports are not as likely to engage in "risky behaviors."
After one girl came home crying because she had been cut from the school volleyball team, the Graces decided to start a volleyball league. They organized a bonfire kickoff that was a huge success.
"There were well over 100 people in the gym [on opening night], and it's ... a small town," Deborah says. "It was exciting. These kids are learning, and their time is being filled with positive activities." A basketball program will start in February.
In addition to the abstinence program, the Graces hope to start reaching out to girls who have not abstained from sex. They want to show the grace of God.
The Graces have completely embraced their daughter and her child. Thomas Grace says their granddaughter, Tatum, is the "absolute apple of our eye." They want to teach the girls that if they have made a mistake in the past, God will forgive them.
"[Children born to unmarried parents] are gifts, and we want to show them [that] first and foremost," Thomas says.
"We believe that The Salvation Army has an opportunity to enter into peoples' lives at a crisis point, and more than anything else, [we want to] say that they are valuable as people."