Only a few weeks after the Harriet Tubman Express shut down, a group is trying to find a way to restart the coed teen pregnancy prevention program.
"We're in the process of putting together a coalition to reopen somewhere in the city," said David Sabir, who formerly led the pregnancy prevention program that ended after Hamilton County budget cuts in June.
"We're looking for partners. We know how to do the Express, but what we've got to do now is come up with a funding concept," he said.
Sabir, Chattanooga Housing Authority officials and parents of former Express participants have a meeting set for Thursday to discuss ideas.
"We want to do some deep thinking because we want to make sure we don't get caught in the same way again," Sabir said. "If we can set up a way where we can finance ourselves, then we can stay viable in the community."
Sabir said coalition members also have suggested becoming a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable organization.
CHA officials have offered a building at no charge to serve as a location for the Express.
"I've even heard some of the young people say they would have dropped out of school or become a teen parent if it were not for this program," said Carol Johnson, CHA's director of resident services. "Hopefully, that good work can continue,"
Of the 1,100 coed students who attended Harriet Tubman Express over the past 20 years, only four participants became pregnant before becoming adults, officials said. That's even though the program was in East Chattanooga, a community that led Hamilton County in teen pregnancy rates.
Harriet Tubman Express succeeded because workers stayed connected with parents, the program was available and consistent for students and no participant wanted to be the teen who let the group down, Sabir said.
"It's basically surrogate parenting," he said.
Hamilton County has a serious challenge in teen pregnancy, and having a budget that excludes funding for programs such as Harriet Tubman Express is going to make that problem worse, said Chris Brooks, co-founder of Chattanooga Organized for Action, a local advocacy group.
Money spent on prevention means money saved down the road when teens do not become pregnant, he said.
"Unfortunately people who face those challenges [preventing teen pregnancy] aren't going to have opportunity to use services like those that had been provided and proven to be effective," Brooks said.
Money to pay workers is vital to the program's continued success, Sabir said.
"You can't do the Express with volunteers," Sabir said. "You have to have intensity, and that means workers, that means people who can be held accountable to the children."