W.Y.S.E. was initiated by three UCLA students in 1992,
who, after working with several single-mother headed homeless
families, decided to start a program to prevent teenage pregnancy
and provide young women with greater options at an earlier
age. As their understanding of the young womens needs
grew, the curriculum expanded to emphasize self-identity,
decision-making and future options. In the next five years,
W.Y.S.E. spread to six more universities, providing more than
300 young women with sexual and mental health information.
In Los Angeles, only .5% of all W.Y.S.E. participants in the
last four years have gotten pregnant, compared to the 12.6%
teenage birth rate of Los Angeles County. Several of the young
women who joined the program in middle school are now high
school students who continue to participate in the program
and have even become involved in planning and decision-making
for the organization as a whole.
Such results have brought us national acclaim. In 1994,
President Clinton recognized W.Y.S.E. and its UCLA student
founders at a UCLA address. Service creates heroes,
the President said. Women in Support of Each Other...
aims to help high school girls pursue their education and
not become single mothers... Now let me tell you what that
means to me. That is America at its best.
Yet even more significant to us than national acclaim has
been the acclaim of the young women. As one of the W.Y.S.E.
participants exclaimed about the program, It makes girls
go out there and change the world! Through comments
such as this one, high school girls who experienced W.Y.S.E.
in middle school have indicated that the most effective means
of giving them a sense of control over their lives is to actively
engage them in changing their environment. Thus, W.Y.S.E.
developed a high school component of the program that is focused
on community activism.
In the 1997-98 academic year, we hired our first staff member
to develop our National Resource Office. Since 1998, with
the generous support of the California Wellness Foundation,
the Los Angeles Women's Foundation, and others, we have hired
two full-time staff members to provide the student-run chapters
with support, training, supervision, and evaluation. Both
are young women of color and recent college graduates who
have developed leadership skills through W.Y.S.E. This central
office provides our various branches with training, stability,
support and a line of communication between branches. Thus,
we are vastly improving the quality of services provided to
assist young women to make responsible decisions for themselves
and create change in their communities.