ENGLEWOOD — Chez Smith wanted to extend a helping hand more than her former job would allow.
Smith, whose background is in public health, used to work as an administrator in family planning at Stroger Hospital.
“During that time, I counseled a lot of teen girls who came in repeatedly, for [the same] infections, pregnancies, birth control, but what was really troubling" were the sexually-transmitted diseases, she said.
The Englewood resident said she found herself wanting to speak to the girls and counsel them, but that wasn’t possible at her job.
“The clinic is not the best place to because you’re trying to get people in and out, so I couldn’t get in depth,” Smith said, who has a 12-year-old daughter.
“We would counsel girls as young as 12 who thought they were pregnant,” she said. “It hit home. I said, ‘What can I do about this?’”
She began doing community outreach in January 2016. That eventually turned into Gyrls in the H.O.O.D. Foundation, which was officially established in November. There’s a stigma on these teen girls that Smith said she wants to erase. She plans to expand to the West Side on Wednesday.
Smith created a six-week program and the girls who participate receive a certificate of completion. Right now they meet on Saturdays at the Northeastern Illinois University location at 700 E. Oakwood Blvd. in Bronzeville. Testing for Chlamydia and gonorrhea is available.
From the community outreach, Smith said she discovered that many of the girls believed in myths and were getting poor health advice from friends and boyfriends.
“It was clear they needed the facts,” she said. “They were getting info from their friends who didn’t know anything or what their boyfriend was telling them. I just wanted to create a space where we could come together and talk, where there wouldn’t be any judgment.”
And that’s exactly the kind of place it is, said 17-year-old participant April Hudson, a senior at Simeon Career Academy who said she enjoys the opportunity to freely ask questions.
The program "helps girls stay on track,” Hudson said. “Nobody gets judged. We get to talk about our future, like what we want to do, the steps we want to take. It’s just motivating. The program helps a lot.”
Smith said that she’ll be expanding to Ombudsman School’s West Side location.
In the future the organization will have mobile testing units and eventually open up a center.
Smith said she will bring the program wherever it’s needed. People can reach out through Facebook.